Research report
16 Nov 2016
Area of work:

There are multiple policy agendas currently underway attempting to limit the gap between the digital experience people have as consumers and the experiences of patients in the NHS. By 2016/17, all patients should be able to book appointments, order prescriptions and access their detailed medical record online. NHS England’s aim is that at least 10 per cent of patients will be using one or more official online service by 2016/17, rising to 20 per cent by 2017/18. However, the impact of patient-facing technology on the NHS is still unclear.  


The digital patient: transforming primary care? reviews the evidence that exists on digital technology and its impact on patients in primary care and the NHS. It explores the impact of seven types of digital services offered by the NHS: 

  1. Wearables and monitoring technology
  2. Online triage tools
  3. Online sources of health information and advice, targeted interventions and peer support
  4. Online appointment booking and other transactional services
  5. Remote consultations
  6. Online access to records and care plans
  7. Apps

The report finds that patient-facing technology is already showing promise that it can improve care for patients and reduce strain on the stretched health service – particularly for people with long-term conditions such as diabetes or COPD. However, this rapidly evolving market comes with risks. Many apps, tools and devices have not been officially evaluated, meaning that their effectiveness is unknown. In some cases, technology can increase demand for services, disengage staff and have the potential to disrupt the way that patients access care. 

Moreover, the report warns that policy-makers and politicians should avoid assuming that self-care-enabling technology will produce significant savings, at least in the short term.

The report also presents a series of lessons and recommendations to NHS professionals, leaders and policy-makers about how best to harness the potential of technology and avoid the pitfalls.

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