Digital shift during COVID-19 has benefitted patients and staff, survey suggests


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The rise of technology in health and social care during the pandemic has improved the quality and delivery of care, a new global report suggests.

Findings from a survey of over 2,200 people working in these sectors across six countries show that since COVID-19 there has been an uptick in the use of digital and data tools, such as video consultations and online portals, and that this has brought a range of positive impacts to patients and health and social care professionals.

Around two-thirds of respondents (65%) said that these solutions have led to better outcomes for citizens and 60% reported improved quality and access to care. A similar number of people said that adoption of technology has led to increased staff productivity (63%) and more than half said it enabled better collaboration across organisations (56%).

"Access to digital health technologies remains an important issue, so we must ensure that no patient gets left behind." Prof Ara Darzi Co-Director, IGHI

Yet despite these benefits, people cited concerns about the sustainability of these practices, with under half (48%) indicating they’re likely to continue using these technologies into the future. To help support the sectors’ long-term implementation of data and technology so that services can continue to improve, a number of factors identified in the report will need to be addressed, including data security and investment, according to the authors.

The report was led by Imperial College London’s Institute of Global Health Innovation and commissioned by EY.

Professor Ara Darzi, co-director of the Institute of Global Health Innovation at Imperial College London, said: “As this report demonstrates, digital technologies have enormous potential to improve the delivery of healthcare, not just during COVID-19 but beyond the pandemic if successfully and sustainably embedded into practices. However, access remains an important issue, so we must ensure that their adoption does not exacerbate inequalities through the ‘digital divide’ and that no patient gets left behind.”

Barriers to digital uptake

Historically health care organisations have been slow to implement digital technologies and leverage data compared with other sectors. The report highlighted a number of barriers contributing to this lag, including concern about increased admin, shortage of funding and lack of interoperability between IT systems. But with the pandemic forcing these sectors to shift towards remote care and operations, there has been a surge in uptake, with almost two-thirds (62%) reporting increased use of these tools.

The report aimed to better understand the impact of this trend on citizens and practitioners across the globe. And by offering insights on how organisations have successfully embedded these technologies to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of their services, the initiative seeks to enable others to follow suit so that they can harness these tools to enhance the well-being of the people they serve.

Global tech trends

The survey, which was run by YouGov, gathered data from Australia, Italy, India, UAE, UK and US. Respondents work in middle management in public or private health and social care organisations.

The data showed that the use of a range of tools including phone and video consultations, wearable devices and online self-assessment services has doubled. Phone consultations were the most commonly used, now offered by 81% of health and social care organisations included in the survey, compared with 39% pre-pandemic.

The survey identified that these technologies are bringing benefits to both citizens and practitioners, which have been made possible due to the breakdown of a number of pre-pandemic barriers including leadership buy-in and alleviation of ethical and privacy concerns. Yet respondents also highlighted the continued need for in-person services, which can help to identify nuances and red flags that may be difficult to spot remotely.

Towards long-term digital transformation in health and social care

Despite the positive impacts highlighted in this report, uncertainties remain over the continued use of these tools post-COVID-19. Although around half reported planned investments in these technologies over the next three years (48%), just over a third were unsure whether their organisations would continue to fund these technologies moving forward (36%). Mental health services were less likely than physical health or social care services to report planned future investment and, similarly, were less likely to adopt these tools before and during the pandemic.

"The lessons learned during the pandemic must lead to continued investments in a technology-focused health care.” George Atalla EY Global Government Leader

To enable long-term tech transformation of health and social care so that citizens can continue to reap the benefits, the authors have made a number of key recommendations including government payment incentives, encouraging provider buy-in, and common data standards and structure to eliminate interoperability issues. Overcoming these barriers will require a concerted effort from all stakeholders, including regulators, service providers and users, the authors say.

George Atalla, EY Global Government Leader, said: “The response to the global COVID-19 pandemic has shown that data and technology can make a real difference to the work of health and human services professionals, who have worked tirelessly and heroically in the face of this dreadful disease.

“Technological barriers that once seemed insurmountable were quickly overcome, as nations mobilized to respond and support the most vulnerable. The lessons learned during the pandemic must lead to continued investments in a technology-focused health care.”

Download the report here.


Justine Alford

Justine Alford
Institute of Global Health Innovation

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