The recent headlines about the NHS/Alexa partnership are definitely dividing opinion.
Data privacy is naturally a key concern, but there is also a polarising debate around who, and how many, will actually benefit from this new initiative? The profile of households with an Alexa-enabled system would suggest that those with limited access to healthcare are only going to become further marginalised. Instead of bridging the ‘digital divide’, surely there is potential to make it worse?
Hope, not reality
The hope is that digital health partnerships will result in improved access for patients, helping to reduce the demand and the increasing economic burden on the NHS. While it is clear that the pharma industry has a pivotal role to play, it certainly cannot do it alone. But, to enable people to fully embrace the digital transformation in health, we need to be doing more as communicators to support them in adopting these new technologies.
Personalised care needs to be supported in an environment where remote interactions with healthcare providers (HCPs) are becoming the norm. This means introducing more initiatives that talk to people and equip them to make the most out of accessing the healthcare provision that is available to them – that doesn’t involve face-to-face meetings with HCPs.
The focus needs to go beyond the engaged patient, beyond the digitally native, ensuring that vulnerable groups are not excluded. In this new digital age, people need to be included as strategic partners when it comes to their own health journey. We have to champion digital technology, providing people with the skills and the confidence that they need to navigate the fast, disruptive changes that are shaping the health environment.
Digital partnerships outside of the industry will continue to be forged and will increasingly become a critical part of the future of health provision. It’s important that they are the right partnerships, providing solutions that truly put patients’ needs at the centre and place greater emphasis on making information accessible to a broader audience demographic.
For the foreseeable future, there will of course continue to be a digital divide, driven either by demographics or inclination. But, by enabling the technology adopters to help alleviate the pressure on the NHS, HCPs will be able to direct increased support towards the more vulnerable groups, with the potential for deeper interactions that hopefully will result in greater engagement among this audience.
There is much for the communications industry to do to adapt to this new digital era. But, just imagine the exciting potential transformation in health that will result from a new generation of people who are confident in digital technology.
Written by Alison Dunlop, MD for health at comms agency MSL
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