• 18Nov

    Report shares lessons for online health information and apps

    The Nuffield Trust have published a report looking at digital initiatives in primary care.

    The digital patient: transforming primary care?’ reviews the evidence that exists on digital technology and its impact on patients in primary care and the NHS.

    The report aims to show how professionals and policy-makers can make the most of the opportunities afforded by patient technology and avoid the risks.

    It explores the impact of seven types of digital services offered by the NHS:

    1. Wearables and monitoring technology
    2. Online triage tools
    3. Online sources of health information and advice, targeted interventions and peer support
    4. Online appointment booking and other transactional services
    5. Remote consultations
    6. Online access to records and care plans
    7. Apps

    The report finds that patient-facing technology is already showing promise that it can improve care for patients and reduce strain on the stretched health service – particularly for people with long-term conditions such as diabetes or COPD.

    In relation to online health information it reviews evidence of impact, and cites studies with findings including:

    • Patients who access health information online report having more productive conversations with their GP, having a better understanding of their GP’s prognosis and saving time by accessing information rather than making a GP appointment.
    • For a range of conditions, patients belonging to online communities become more knowledgeable; feel more socially supported and empowered; have improved behavioural and clinical outcomes, compared with non-users.
    • For rare diseases where established groups do not exist, social media is playing an increasingly large role.
    • Social media sites are also becoming increasingly prominent sources of health information among adolescents.

    It includes a number of lessons related to online health information:

    • Professionals should actively recommend online patient networks and trusted sources of information.
    • User-centred design should be the norm.
    • Target patients effectively.

    In relation to apps the report highlights that many have not been officially evaluated, meaning that their effectiveness is unknown. It shares an outline of the planned NHS technology and innovation tariff, which will include a process for ‘approving apps’.

    The report’s lessons for apps include:

    • Patient safety will need to be assured.
    • Patients will need support.
    • Apps should encourage engagement.
    • Complex patients will need additional support and ideally bespoke technology.
    • Apps will need to be easy to use.

    The report warns that policy-makers and politicians should avoid assuming that self-care-enabling technology will produce significant savings, at least in the short term.

    You can read the full report on the Nuffield Trust website.