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“2020health is an important and thoughtful contributor to the health debate”

Dr Sarah Wollaston MP, Chairman, Health Select Committee


Health & Social Care Reform Technology in healthcare is 'real enabler'

Image Technology in healthcare is 'real enabler'

Julia Manning, founder and chief executive of the 2020health thinktank, will chair Govtoday's Digital Healthcare 2014 conference on 3 September - here she gives her thoughts on the progress made by the NHS in adopting new technologies to improve patient care.

What work does 2020health do in the area of digital healthcare?

We're the leading thinktank in healthcare technology, so we've done more than any other organisation. We've done a lot in this space, for example facilitating an exchange programme between NHS England and the Veterans' Health Administration in the US. We took out four groups last year to look at how they were using technology - health and social care there is much more joined up, more integrated. So we've done quite a lot. We comment a lot and we talk a lot about digital healthcare, and we're also just about to launch new health technology awards.

What are the main challenges in the health sector that make technological innovation so important at the moment?

We have to enable self-care. We have to enable people to be able to do more for themselves, be more informed, more involved, more confident - and technology is a real enabler of all of that, which is why we're so passionate about it. We still have a far too paternalistic, dependent, labour intensive approach that is simply not sustainable, so we want to do everything we can to help with sustainability in healthcare in this country. We see technology as one of the key enablers of that.

One of the other speakers at the event wrote in an article for Govtoday that if we were building the healthcare system from scratch much more technology would be incorporated, but with the current systems that are in place, this isn't taken full advantage of. Would you agree with that?

Yes, absolutely, there's a lot of resistance to change, which is partly understandable because there has been a fair amount of change that has been absolutely pointless and useless - with reorganisations people tend to get fatigued. That's unfortunate, but some changes are necessary, and we think that in terms of using digital technology to be able to really enfranchise patients, enable them to do more for themselves and be more independent, the NHS has been very slow to adapt.

And of course the current constraints on budgets doesn't really help either - or does it make this more urgent because of the potential savings in the long-run?

Yes, it will be more efficient and reduce dependency. We can do a lot more remote monitoring - it can be just using the telephone instead of someone trekking in to see somebody, which is sometimes necessary but sometimes it isn't. Part of the difficulty has been people getting their heads around moving from one system to another, and not only the upfront investment but also overlap between the old and new. And also a reticence to stop doing the old and just do the new - there's got to be a cut-off point. So there are lots of different issues that get in the way, but hopefully at the event we'll hear some stories from people who have overcome these barriers.

Is there more the government could be doing to encourage innovation in this area?

I think there could have been, and could be, much more consistent support for people on the ground who are trying to deliver new initiatives. Unfortunately the whole reorganisation over the past couple of years hasn't helped because it's happened at precisely the same time as we've need to review how we deliver things and engage with technology. Instead people have been wondering who their boss is. It has been really disruptive and unhelpful at a time when we've needed to adopt new ways of delivering healthcare.