At Good Things Foundation we’ve been very pleased this week to celebrate the 70th birthday of the NHS. We’ve blogged and published guest blogs, we launched a report (about our pilot project with the Sheffield Perfect Patient Pathway Testbed looking at the digital capabilities of health professionals), and we’ve shared lots of great stories on social media. But as the NHS hits this great milestone, it’s got me thinking, how can we sustain it going forward and can digital play a bigger part?
Innovation isn’t just sexy tech and apps
The first phase of our Widening Digital Participation programme proved that online health information - and importantly, ensuring people having the digital skills to access that information - can have a significant positive impact on people’s lives. We reached hundreds of thousands of people with those digital health skills and found that this behaviour change could save the NHS lots of valuable cash (£6m a year through channel shift eg. using more appropriate and more convenient channels).
The point is, the thing that made the most difference to the learners was the information. There’s so much talk out there about different technologies modernising healthcare but the reality is it isn’t all about sexy tech and apps. People need information to get them started in the world of digital health.
Dr Ollie Hart, a GP based in Sheffield who you may recognise from some of our Widening Digital Participation communications, is working hard to make sure people have the knowledge to use online information to manage their conditions in a safe way. He’s embedded signposting to basic digital information in partnership with a local Online Centre who has been based in the GP’s surgery once a week for the past four years.
One of our first Pathfinders in Phase 2 of the Widening Digital Participation programme is a project in Islington working with young people with mental health needs. The project took the relatively simple step of putting a PDF of young people’s Crisis Care Plans on their mobile phones. It was previously on paper and was often lost or forgotten about. This solution meant that the Crisis Care Plan was in easy reach whenever the young person needed it. Digital was the solution, but it was very low tech.
As Juliet Bauer, Chief Digital Officer at NHS England, says "Technology is here to extend humanity not replace it."
Digital can bring so much to the prevention piece
Too often the conversations I’m part of about Health and Digital tend to be almost all about curing people. But for better health for more people and for people to not get sick in the first place then digital has a big role to play in prevention as well as cure.
We have many stories of people who have lost weight by getting support from other dieters online or by using the internet to find easy recipes - and therefore preventing a number of illnesses associated with being overweight or obese.
In June, in Sheffield (where I live), there’s a Move More campaign that got me walking 30 minutes to work and back because of a simple app on my phone and a league table where organisations compete against one another to do the most active minutes per person.
But it is getting the people involved that is crucial. Our Pathfinders show time and again that people need to help design their own solutions - whether this is an old butcher shop turned digital health information centre in Nailsea or better access to healthcare for homeless people in Hastings.
Digital is a tool that helps to drive behaviour change - and that behaviour change means individual people making better decisions about keeping healthy rather than waiting until poor health strikes.
It’s about making people feel healthier and better
This week has been such a huge milestone and I’ve seen and heard so many great things in the news about our national treasure. It makes me proud.
I’d also like to say a big thank you to the people at the NHS who are working with us to test some new approaches and to see what works (and what doesn’t). Thank you to all of the people in the NHS, in the CCGs, and the GPs involved. Thank you to Nicola Gill (who wrote a great guest blog this week), Juliet Bauer, and Bob Gann, who have helped to drive this initiative forward.
The NHS will hit 80 in ten years, and there’s no doubt that it will be a big decade for digital - in making the NHS even better, more accessible, more convenient and flexible, There will be many more opportunities to create services with people, not just for people.
In the UK there are still over 11 million people who aren’t proficient at filling in an online form or downloading an app - our mission is to help all of them to be confident at using the web for good, and to have better lives, and that’s going to be really important for the NHS in the next decade and beyond. Let’s not forget these millions of people as we design the next tech innovation and as we embrace the next ten years of an even better NHS.
Happy Birthday, NHS. And thank you.