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90 per cent of health providers plan digital – but concerns remain over skills

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Almost 90 per cent of the UK’s leading health providers plan to accelerate digital transformation plans in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, new research has revealed. 

In a survey of 70 organisations across the NHS and Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs), digital transformation was shown to be high on the healthcare agenda, with 98 per cent seeing increased demand for remote health services in the past 12 months. 

For 86 per cent, digital transformation was seen to be so critical in delivering better patient care, they plan to bring forward their timelines this year to embed better technology infrastructure and adoption.

This, reveals the study from iGov and BT, is driven by demand in remote services (80 per cent), rising patient expectations (71 per cent), and pressures from the pandemic (65 per cent). 

However, the barriers to technology adoption were also revealed, with traditional concerns over cost (39 per cent) being far outweighed by a cultural resistance to new digital processes (60 per cent). 

For instance, whilst 97 per cent of UK adults have used technology this past year to connect with the NHS, only 18 per cent of health organisations currently use patient health apps. This is despite almost 70 per cent acknowledging smart apps contribute to better patient service. 

Similarly, only 40 per cent of NHS staff use an online booking system, undoubtedly causing delays and reduced level of service during the national lockdown and social distancing measures this past year.

When asked about the biggest barriers to delivering healthcare remotely, NHS staff cite a lack of digital skills and access for both healthcare colleagues as well as patients. Though almost all (98 per cent) of respondents have experienced a surge in patient demand for remote services, 71 per cent say that a patient’s ability to use and access digital services without assistance remains an issue. 

More than half also say they don’t have the systems in place to access critical systems such as patient records in real time. Even with some remote health services in place, 43 per cent have reported difficulty connecting from remote locations successfully.

“Despite the unprecedented pressures the NHS is facing, it’s fantastic to see the new level of optimism and ambition from NHS colleagues in fast-tracking digital innovation in the aftermath of the pandemic,” says Professor Sultan Mahmud, director of healthcare, BT’s Enterprise unit.

“But we know that there are considerable, resource, technological and cultural challenges which still need to be addressed to reap the benefits of digital innovation. 

“With almost five million people waiting for operations in England alone – the highest since 2007 – digital technologies and solutions must be deployed at pace to help the NHS to deliver flexible, personalised, and anticipatory care to patients and release capacity wherever possible.”

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