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Is Going Digital The Future Of Healthcare? An Overview Of The Possible Advantages And Concerns

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By Edited Jul 7, 2016 0 0


Over the last year the NHS and healthcare as a whole have been in a shakeup.

With the recession having hit harder than previously thought the public sector has been scrutinised and budgets have become tighter. The current government is on the saving bandwagon like so many other countries across the globe. Their revamped model of the NHS and how healthcare will be working in future is aiming to make things more efficient and save money in the long run.

According to a BBC report the new model will cost over £1.4bn to implement, however the government is expecting savings of at least £5bn in reduction of staff alone. Nevertheless, with the current healthcare system already being stretched will a reduction of staff and an increase of day to day administration for health care professionals deepen the crisis instead of helping efficiency?

We have seen a digital revolution in most industries both product and service, which has helped to reduce costs and add value to customers. The question is could the move into the digital sphere help the plans to make healthcare more efficient. Could Social Media platforms become the new doctor’s surgeries? Or does the future of healthcare lie in creating mobile applications that could replace some of the health care professional’s responsibilities? Although digital media is not yet a big part of healthcare it has certainly been a growing factor, and healthcare professionals have joined the online world on mainstream platforms as well as creating niche online platforms themselves.

If healthcare is going down this path it will be important to fully understand the advantages as well as the dangers and hurdles that will have to be overcome and dealt with along their digital journey.

Social Media For Healthcare

It has taken some time but Health Professionals have officially entered the digital age or shall we say they have finally entered Health 2.0.

Although when social media started years ago now, people claimed that it was a short-lived hype and that it would disappear as fast as it appeared. Well, looking at social media figures it is a growing trend, and it seems it is a trend that is here to stay.

Our lives have become entangled with social networks and the internet as a whole that people just expect to have access online to anything they are looking for. An American study by the Pew research centre showed that people increasingly try to self-assess their medical needs by searching online. It showed that over 38% of those people thought after finding information online that they could treat themselves instead of seeing or consulting a medical professional.

These figures are worrying. Although the internet is a great place to find information, it is also a place of great misinformation. Due to this healthcare professionals believe that the use of social media by medical staff would be beneficial to counteract this misinformation.

According to a news report in the Guardian some NHS trusts are actively using social media to communicate with their key stake holders. This does not only mean they can build another level of communication with their patients. But actually give health professionals a platform to communicate with each other, network, share thoughts, get feedback and create a channel to drive change and improve their services.

They have seen great successes especially around engaging with people who use their clinical services such as Drug Clinics. Another initiative that NHS trusts have used is implementing social media surgeries for people who use their services. They hope that they can build on the work they have done already and connect with patients on a different level, allowing them to support them throughout their recovery online as well as offline.

Mobile Apps For Healthcare

What the experts say.

In the same way that social media has increased over the years – so has the use of smartphones and tablets. Over 30% of the population in the UK own a smartphone. However the more interesting fact is that over 80% of all health professionals admit using smartphones on a daily basis. According to Genetic Digital Healthcare Apps could be a great way of reaching healthcare professionals. Furthermore it could help make their work that little bit easier, and most importantly could improve patient care, diagnosis and treatment. Moreover, according to a report in the Guardian research has shown that over 40% of all applications that are being developed are actually health related apps.

Clinical Matrix, a network of Healthcare Professionals, support that medical applications definitely have a place in the future of Healthcare, and could fit into the plans of making the Healthcare system more efficient. Their view is that medical apps could actually provide valuable assistance for overworked and under resourced healthcare professionals such as community nurses. A medical app could help them carry out their duty more efficiently and effectively. For example it could make a great difference to a community nurse having the diary system on a smartphone, and gain the ability of recording clinical interactions in real time.

Possible Advantages

According to research detailed in Clinical Business Excellence there are some very distinctive advantages that can be achieved through development of Health Apps:

  • Supporting Diagnosis: Although Apps will never replace the actual health professional and his/her knowledge and expertise, it can support in the testing process and spotting signs of certain medical conditions early. As an example an App was developed that would help identify dementia, after rigorous tests the result was that the App was more accurate in spotting the early signs than the traditional paper based screening tests.
  • Increase Productivity: Another important factor for healthcare is improving productivity levels. As said before the healthcare sector is being streamlined, however it will be important to equip staff with needed tools to support their busy schedules and cut out unnecessary work steps, such as:
    • The need to travel to the office to pick up work
    • Keeping a paper based diary
    • Finding an address
    • Completing paper based forms and templates

A well designed app could simply link all these things together into one portal and keep all information in one place.

The Hurdles To Overcome

Social Media - Things to look out for

As mentioned before social media sites are a great way to network and share health info amongst Health Professionals. However there are some risks, especially when connecting to patients online, that have to be addressed. This means before indulging blindly in Social Media, Health Professionals should take some time to understand and counteract all of the possible ramifications.

Like in real life the online world could trigger a chain of legal issues especially around the topics of patient confidentiality, personal data, and data protection. This means befriending patients on social media could open up a door to legal risks. There are certain laws that have been put in place to protect the health information of patients. Health providers should steer clear of sharing health information that could actually be linked back to a patient.

According to the BMA (British Medical Association) there are some important points that medical professionals should keep in mind when using social media:

  • Keep Private and Professional separated: it is recommended to keep private profiles and professional profiles separated. Social Media could blur the boundaries between the two. It is especially highlighted that they should not accept any friend requests from current or past patients – as this could lead to a conflict of interest.
  • Privacy is Key: Medical professionals who are engaging on social media should stick to rather conservative privacy settings. However, they have to aware of the fact that even though privacy can be protected to some degree, that they are engaging in a public space (the web) so not all information can be protected.
  • Ethical Responsibilities: Same as in their offline lives medical staff have an ethical obligation towards their patients. This means that they should have the patients interests in mind at all times, so should steer clear of any inappropriate comments that could be seen offensive or could be in breach of patient confidentiality. According to a Big Brother Report this has been a main concern. The report states that over a period of 3 years over 800 incidents happened in which NHS staff had breached data protection policies. Out of which over 23 incidents occurred by staff posting confidential information on social media networking sites. As the use of Social Media increases the concerns of protecting patients data is increasing too.
  • Protect your Reputation: Health professionals are advised to be conscious of their online activities, as it will reflect on their image on and offline. If not careful this could impact their actual professional standing.
  • Avoid Defamation: Although freedom of speech is an important right and increasingly more healthcare professionals are voicing opinions online they have to be aware that any of their comments could be subject to defamation law. They have the duty to protect others from harm to their rights or reputation. So a simple comment on Facebook that might be seen as defamatory could lead to legal action against that professional or the organisation he/she is representing. In many cases people feel less inhibited and are more likely to express opinions online. This is sometimes due to the wrong feeling of anonymity. Nevertheless, comments posted online under a username will not guarantee anonymity as in most cases there will be a way of tracing it back.
  • Stay Professional: The bottom line is really to keep your professionalism whether you are communicating online or offline.


Health Applications – Things to look out for

The research has shown that there definitely is a need and market for medical apps, however when developing an app for the healthcare sector it is important to understand the process and if it is actually feasible to design and build an app. The image below illustrates some of the things that developers and healthcare professionals need to keep in mind when creating an app.

It can be difficult to ascertain whether technological innovations like app development is worthwhile, as this infographic illustrates
Credit: http://www.geneticdigital.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/do-i-need-an-app.png

The main hurdle currently for medical apps is answering the question of “is it a medical device or not?” If it is a medical device then it will have to be registered as one. This means the greater the risk for patients, the higher the chance of needing to register the app. The term risk does not just apply to giving the wrong diagnosis but also how patient data is used. The MHRA (Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency is responsible for regulation of medical devices. So if the app is classified as a medical device, then the risk level will have to be identified, most apps are classified as Class I.

If you are not sure if your app is a medical device or not, it would be beneficial to register it as Class I, this will allow you to mark the app with a CE label, which will show that it conforms with EU regulations and could actually open up more opportunities in getting medical companies to adopt the application.


The article has clearly shown that the healthcare sector has recognised the importance of the internet.

Not just as a place to post research papers but to actually connect, help, inform and empathise with patients. Furthermore, it opens up a whole new channel to share experience amongst each other and promote driving change and improvements to processes.

Additionally, the growth of internet on the go on smartphones and tablets has created a new path to enable giving health professionals’ tools that could make their work easier and increase efficiency.

On both topics there are still great concerns for patients, especially around patient confidentiality, how patient data would be used or shared, and the legal issues that could unfold upon healthcare professionals.

The bottom line is that there are great opportunities for both patients and healthcare professionals, however the framework, rules, and guidance still have to be detailed – to support health professionals take the right decisions online.



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