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 that an overwhelming majority of these users (83%) viewed their experience positively.
But when asked to compare these technology-enabled approaches to traditional models of care, 42% of 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.
The Foundation’s report, Securing a positive health care technology legacy from COVID-19, was informed by YouGov online surveys of over 4,000 UK adults and over 1,000 NHS staff.
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 also 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.”