Experts argue over whether NHS should go fully digital by default or not

Does NHS need to improve digital dialogue with patients?

The Public Service Events’ NHS Informatics conference took place recently, where industry experts discussed the issue of whether the NHS needed to improve on its “digital dialogue with patients” – providing them with digital information about their health and how to manage it themselves – or whether it should not go fully digital by default, instead opting for a digital first approach.

According to Dr Charles Gutteridge, the national clinical director for informatics at the Department of Health, data in the NHS was still displayed in ways that “are incredibly old-fashioned”.

We have to portray data in ways that ordinary people can understand and that makes my work as a professional easier,” he said, adding that this would not in any way diminish the role of doctors.

Giles Wilmore, director of patient and public voice and information at the NHS Commissioning Board Authority, agrees with this stance: “Patients that are able to access their record online become much more informed about their own health and care and in control of the choices they make. That improves their quality of experience and outcome and also the efficiency and smooth running of the system,” he said.

However, Phil Walker, head of digital information policy at the Department of Health, does not want to give control of records to citizens: “They may be able to add to them, they may be able comment on them, they may be equal partners in how they develop. But they cannot control.”

He believes that the NHS cannot fully embrace the government’s digital by default agenda, rather it should modernise services by making services ‘digital first’ while also giving patients the option of how they want to communicate with NHS, make appointments etc – by phone, by going to their clinic or online.

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