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Time to stop running from digital health

I’m returning to the topic of digital access to healthcare – or rather the lack of it. Regular readers will know I’ve written about this more than once, but with more evidence emerging this week I think it’s appropriate. Also I make no apologies for being persistent on this topic.

digital health mhealth

This week there was quite a buzz around a McKinsey survey of more than 1,000 patients across Germany, Singapore and the UK which indicated that more than 75% would like to use digital channels to access healthcare.

This backs up another survey of more than 2,000 adult smartphone users from the UK, Australia, Brazil, China, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Russia, Turkey, and the United States which indicated that 80% want to interact with doctors on mobile devices.

There was even an acknowledgment from NHS England’s medical director, Sir Bruce Keogh, that mobile health has a significant role to play in patient monitoring, which is quite a culture shock for those of us in the UK who are used to clinicians down-playing the potential for mHealth.

Excuses, excuses, excuses

Given the weight of evidence that patients/consumers/customers/citizens (call us what you will) actually want this stuff, why isn’t digital access to health more freely available? It seems there are a number of obstacles cited frequently:

1. Patients don’t want it

I think we can see from the mounting evidence that this simply isn’t true. There’s also the myth that older people don’t want it – again a specific point dispelled in that McKinsey survey which showed that 70% of older patients want to use digital healthcare services. (I also discussed this spurious notion in a previous post).

2. Doctors don’t want it

There’s certainly been some truth in this historically, but as I’ve been careful to highlight in previous posts, we now have a number of clinical leaders who are on board. Even the Chief Medical Officer of England is now positive.

3. It’s impossible to make it secure

I love this one. Here’s a quick quiz question – which of the following modes of data storage would you say is most ‘secure’:

  • paper files stored in a filing cabinet in my doctor’s office
  • electronic files stored on a PC in my doctor’s office (a converted house)
  • electronic files held in an ISO27001 accredited data centre with multiple physical barriers, firewalls, intruder detection and onsite/offsite backup?

Other industries like banking, travel and retail have addressed online security, so there’s no shortage of tools to help. Even other government agencies have learnt to operate quite successfully online – if the taxman is OK with online working then it can’t be out of the question.

4. It costs too much

This also baffles me. Other industries learnt a long time ago that the digital channel – which is largely ‘self-service’ – is the cheapest channel of all to support your customers. I found a Deloitte report for the UK public sector which suggested relative channel costs of £14.65 for face to face, £1.39 for telephone and £0.25 for web. At a time when budgets are under pressure shouldn’t more effort be made to make the budget go further (and at the same time deliver the required service)?

The new normal

Do any of these sound like real brick walls to you? Or perhaps like excuses that are wearing thin? When can we just accept that opening up the digital channel is normal, and just get on with it please? I’d love to hear your thoughts – or you can always contact me.

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