Older people do not like digital health. This is a myth perpetuated by those in the NHS who are afraid of change and it is threatening the very future of our beloved health service. We come across this attitude on a depressingly frequent basis as we expand our digital health services across the UK.
There is always a doctor or nurse who doesn’t want to embrace digital health technology. They claim their elderly patients like coming into the hospital or clinic and feel bamboozled by new gadgets and digital health technology. For the majority of older people, this could not be further from the truth. Many regularly face long trips on public transport or congested roads to attend routine appointments when they could do without the inconvenience.
As for new technology, Ofcom’s latest report on adult media use shows that two thirds of 65-74 year-olds use the internet. A further three million people aged 75 and over go online. And the over-55s check their platforms every day.
John Binks, a warfarin patient in Wigan, says self testing “is as easy as making a cup of tea”. And he’s 84.
The bureaucrats and healthcare professionals running our healthcare system needs to wake up to this reality and listen to people like John. Their unwillingness to accept that the world has changed is holding back modernisation of our NHS and jeopardising its viability.
Look beyond the doom-and-gloom headlines in the media about proposed cuts to NHS services across England to combat a growing deficit and you will see how some forward-thinking areas are starting to understand how self-testing technology can take the heat off their finances.
The Guardian reported that north-west London is planning to coach patients to manage their own conditions without seeing a doctor. This is exactly the sort of thing we need to see more of if the NHS is to survive. We applaud these sorts of initiatives. Sadly, many healthcare professionals working in England believe that technology is a risk to their jobs.
What about all the doctors and nurses we have to import from far-parts of the world to run our hospitals and GP practices? Using technology to carry out routine and, dare I say it, mundane tasks will free up NHS staff to do what they are best at, which is caring for people who need it the most.
Slowly but surely politicians are heeding our call.
The former health minister Norman Lamb said of our vital signs self-testing service in Norfolk: “This is a fantastic new service which will help people to monitor their health at home, bringing peace of mind while making sure that doctors and nurses can step in early if there is a sign something might be wrong. At a time when the NHS is under enormous pressure, it’s more vital than ever that we do everything we can to prevent people from being admitted to hospital unnecessarily, and this digital tool can make an important contribution. It’s a great example of the benefits that innovation and new technologies can bring to the NHS.”
We love the NHS, but it has to change and these sustainability and transformation plans present an opportunity, not a threat, to usher in a new beginning.