You probably have more technology in your mobile phone than existed in the entire world in 1960. Technology has become an essential part of most people’s lives, from emails, to making online purchases and much more.
It’s growing at a tremendous pace and health care is benefiting from the network age that we’re now all part of. Many GP practices are offering patients the opportunity to book appointments online, though across the country the take up has not been great – only around 12 per cent are currently made online.
The clinical commissioning group I chair is embracing the opportunities digital technology offers. We have just launched an updated app – called Choose Well Doncaster – which can be downloaded free from the App Store, giving advice on when it’s best to use health services and where they can find them.
With a few clicks you can quickly get information and directions to your local pharmacy, GP surgery, dentist, sexual health clinic, minor injuries unit or A&E. The app uses GPS technology to signpost nearby services, displaying the information on a map which can be used anywhere in Doncaster.
We need technology. That’s why I was pleased to read last week of plans to make sure everyone using the NHS can access free wi-fi.
It’s one of a number of recommendations aimed at making sure people with the most health needs, often the least likely to be online, are able to able to access the new digital tools being introduced across the NHS.
The vision is to turn the NHS’ buildings into a massive free wi-fi zone by 2020.
The potential benefits are immense. Free wi-fi would allow patients in hospital to self-monitor their conditions using apps, maintain contact with social networks that can support recovery and help them stay in contact with family and friends.
It would also reduce the administrative burden on health professionals like me, freeing time to spend with patients and enabling safer working practices, such as electronic prescribing, which has reduced medication errors by 50 per cent.
Digital monitoring equipment can help people manage their health better and avoid emergency admissions to hospital. We already have tele-health systems in Doncaster that enable clinicians to remotely monitor patients’ health in their own homes.
Making broadband free to everyone has been described by Baroness Martha Lane Fox, the Government’s Digital Champion, as having the potential to be one of the great public health advances of the 21st century. She says those who lack access to the internet will, like those who lacked access to clean water and sanitation in the 19th century, be at risk of increasing inequality and poorer health. I agree.