Research published today by the Health Foundation finds that around three fifths of NHS users increased their use of technology to access care during the first phase of the COVID-19 pandemic and an overwhelming majority of these (83%) viewed their experience positively. However, when asked to compare these technology-enabled approaches to traditional models of care, 42% of these NHS users who had increased their use of technology said they made for worse quality of care, highlighting the need for technology implemented during the pandemic to be developed and improved before the government goes ahead with its ambition of ‘locking in’ new innovations.
The Foundation’s report, Securing a positive health care technology legacy from COVID-19, informed by YouGov online surveys of over 4,000 UK adults and over 1,000 NHS staff, found a similar pattern among NHS staff surveyed. While 78% of those whose organisation had increased its use of technology reported positive experiences, 33% also said these approaches made for worse quality of care compared to traditional models.
Commenting on the findings in the report, Tim Horton, the Health Foundation’s Assistant Director of Improvement, said:
'Given the immense pressure the NHS has been under, it is impressive that so many patients and staff reported positive experiences as new technologies were rolled out.
'However, the fast pace at which they were introduced means that important steps – such as evaluation and co-design with patients – will necessarily have been shortcut. As we emerge from the shadow of the pandemic, the NHS must evaluate and improve these approaches before locking them in for the future.'
The report looks at the increased NHS use of technologies during the pandemic to reduce face-to-face contact and manage demand, such as video consultations, online appointment booking or remote monitoring at home. While most of those who used technology more during the early phase of the pandemic found the experience positive, half of these users aged 55 and older (50%) and nearly half of those with a carer (46%) – groups that may have higher need for health care – thought these technology-enabled approaches made for worse quality of care.
NHS staff surveyed highlighted ensuring adequate IT and equipment and making sure technologies are safe and work for all types of patients, as among the top challenges for capitalising on recent technological progress.
Furthermore, the report finds that while 49% of the public and 61% of NHS staff surveyed thought the NHS should be looking to use technology-enabled approaches more in future, a significant minority of both public (36%) and NHS staff surveyed (31%) were unconvinced about the long-term use of these approaches.
'The NHS has not yet ‘sealed the deal’ with the public on the future use of technology and further work is needed to address concerns and build trust in new technologies.
'While the speed of innovation has been hugely impressive, rushing to make these changes permanent without understanding more about their impact would risk holding back promising technologies from fulfilling their potential to improve care for every patient.
'Action is needed by the NHS and government, who have a critical opportunity to secure a positive health care technology legacy from COVID-19.'
- UK public survey fieldwork done online by YouGov, 26–28 October 2020; total sample size 4,326 adults (85% from England, 8% Scotland, 5% Wales and 3% Northern Ireland); figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (aged 18+). NHS staff survey fieldwork done online by YouGov 23 October–1 November 2020; total sample size 1,413 adults (80% from England, 13% Scotland, 6% Wales and 1% Northern Ireland); sample comprised the main occupational groups within the NHS’s clinical workforce (allied health professionals; medical and mental; ambulance; public health; nurses and midwives; nursing or health care assistants).
- In the UK public survey, a respondent was regarded as an NHS user if they had either ‘received NHS care for any health condition’ or if they (or their carer) had ‘communicated with the NHS about their health’ since the first lockdown began at the end of March 2020. In all subsequent questions, those with a carer (6% of the sample) were then asked to think about questions either in relation to their personal use of technology or their carer’s use of technology to communicate with the NHS on their behalf.
- The survey defined those who increased their use of technology as either those who used a technology in a new way or for the first time, or those who used technology more than they did before the COVID-19 pandemic.
- For the question on whether the NHS should be looking to use technology-enabled approaches more in future, respondents were presented with two statements and asked which came closer to their view.
- The government’s white paper, Integration and Innovation, working together to improve health and social care for all, published in February 2021, states: 'The response to Covid-19… has shown us new ways to deliver care using innovative and creative solutions, exploiting the potential of digital and data, instead of needless bureaucracy. We must not go back to the old ways of working. The gains made through these new approaches must be locked in', p9.
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