Digital healthcare and patient safety – the journey continues

For digital healthcare to succeed good quality care must be the primary focus, with patient safety front and centre. Whether in the real or digital world, healthcare is about people.

Accessibility and acceptability of digital healthcare to the people it serves is key to its success.

Adoption of technology

Healthcare professionals have, for years, adopted and adapted to using new technology. Holding consultations with patients and inputting clinical information in real-time is not new.

What has changed is public willingness to engage with such technology, by necessity. Growth in online consultations is one of the most noticeable developments since March 2020. The profile of digital health technology has been raised as a result.

Funding, which is always a challenge, has accelerated change. This being a reflection of belief by the leadership of organisations in new technology.

The large-scale adoption of technology is yet to be fully evaluated, however this level of acceleration in use of digital healthcare technology brings with it continued consideration of patient safety. What may aid the argument that quality has been improved via digital healthcare is evidencing by way of standards being met. Testing, and independent assessment, by the health and social care system building public confidence in such systems.

Continued innovation

Linking innovation with assessment of standards, via risk analysis and mitigation of those risks strikes us as an important part of the digital healthcare strategy.

This is about people. Advancements in technology are to be welcomed. However, the key to public support is surely about how it feels to receive such care and what the results are.

Listening to the patient, when developing systems, has always been important and remains so. Observing patients, speaking with them and hearing from them to ensure that innovation remains on track. This requires an open mind on the part of the innovators so as to adjust, perhaps substantially, and ultimately refine.

Learning from practice is also going to be critical to the success of digital healthcare. Practitioners implementing these resources in their day-to-day work will have rich evidence to feed in to the innovation process. Technology should reflect the patient using the technology.

Listening to and learning from healthcare practitioners will not only enhance the technology in practice, but it will help to reduce scepticism and increase acceptability on the part of both healthcare practitioners and patients. Coupling this with bringing patients in on the design process, so as to co-create and feedback, will be an important part of the innovation process going forward. Building trust through transparency.

Reliable systems

Trust in the system of digital healthcare and its reliability cannot be underestimated. By this we mean both the hardware and software, which are constantly evolving.

Periods of system downtime remain necessary. However, to avoid this being a source of confusion, delay and loss of information remains one of the hurdles that the healthcare system will need to overcome.

The World Health Organisation’s Patient Safety Action Plan has highlighted the role of digital healthcare being an enabler to patient safety. People, human behaviour and interaction with the digital systems determines how safe the care provided to patients is. The NHS Safety Strategy has focused on both safer systems and a safer culture.

The desire and ability to integrate GP, hospital and care home systems, for healthcare practitioners to operate in a blended environment is yet to be seen. At present there remains duplication of work and time by different services providing care. This affects continuity of care and risks loss of capturing important information. Such barriers do not assist in building and maintaining public confidence.

Bridging the digital divide

The Department for Culture Media and Sport supports technology being at the heart of our recovery. Investment in reducing digital poverty and bridging the divide must be made to ensure these digital healthcare systems are available to all. Systems need to be accessible.

The post pandemic landscape of safer patient care, in a digital world, will be determined by many of the same elements as before. Much of the successful adoption of systems coming down to investment (and the availability of funds) and training. Staff, who have already been stretched need technology which is easy to use and helpful.

Ultimately, it will be the effort, commitment and support of healthcare professionals, the patients and the public that will determine its success.

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