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Health and social care tech ‘needs better evidence base’

26/04/21

Mark Say Managing Editor

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Health and social care organisations need to make changes in how they evaluate and support the implementation of digital tools for care, according to the King’s Fund.

Doctor manipulating digital icons

The research charity for the sector has published a report, Shaping the future of digital technology in health and social care, looking at the evidence on the technology’s use – largely pre-pandemic – and possible future developments.

It says there has already been a major shift towards using technologies such as AI in diagnostic testing, the IoT and mobile devices to monitor vulnerable people, and wearables to encourage changes in behaviour, and that there is evidence of their potential to support staff and patients.

But there are also gaps in the evidence base, with no large scale trials having taken place for AI and the IoT, a need for better insights with mobiles, and little evidence of overall system impact from wearables. The report says that in most areas there is a need for more extensive evaluations.

There is also a need to support staff and suppliers in improving design and implementation, while building up analytical skills in the health and care workforce.

The report adds that the public must become a key stakeholder and partner in the developments as people’s data becomes a source of potential finance gain, and to help the sector understand the impact of digital inequalities.

It also outlines three possible scenarios for the future. One is a ‘techlash’ in which people lose trust in how their data is used and become reluctant to use the technology.

Second is an uneven spread of digital technology across the sector with low quality evidence restraining the take-up of new tools. Third is a more optimistic scenario in which the quality of evidence and support improves and promotes a rapid adoption of the technology.

Huge effect

“The decisions taken in the next few years will have a huge effect on how the health and social care system is transformed,” the report says.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has created a huge set of pressures on the system while it is undergoing a significant transformation – with the establishment of integrated care systems (ICSs) as statutory bodies over the next 12 months marking a fundamental change to how health and care organisations make decisions and exchange information.”

The research involved a literature review, interviews with 10 experts and the creation of scenarios.

Image from iStock, Thomas Andreas

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