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BY Leo Hynett

Healthcare

The Patient Coalition for AI, Data and Digital Tech in Health

Thanks to this new coalition, patients will be consulted at every step of digital health policymaking.

SEPTEMBER 17  2021

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A new coalition has been launched to place patients and the centre of digital health policymaking. The coalition will ‘operate as an independent campaigning coalition, aiming to advance joint pieces of work and engaging actively to help influence government and NHS policy on the use of digital technology in healthcare.’

The new coalition includes a large variety of medical associations:

Asthma UK, Boehringer Ingelheim, British Lung Foundation, British Heart Foundation, Diabetes UK, Fight for Sight, Parkinson’s UK, Patient Information Forum, Patient Safety Learning, The Patients Association, Royal College of Pathologists, Royal College of Radiologists, Stroke Association.

This eclectic mix of specialties ensures that the benefits will be felt across the NHS as we continue to move towards a digital health system driven by AI and data.

 

The coalition’s focus

The health system has rapidly moved towards digital solutions during the pandemic, but the speed of development has meant that some patients have been left behind. This can be due to their level of confidence with technology, their personal access to computers, or because the developments have left their particular demographic behind. On top of that, some specialties have accelerated their digital adoption faster than others, which means that two patients with two different illnesses may not equally benefit from AI and data solutions.

In light of these challenges, one of the coalition’s primary focuses is to examine these inequalities in access to digital health and tackle the deeper underlying health inequalities they reflect. Through their work, they aim to identify and share the best patient-centric practice in digital health and ensure that ‘patient perspective is embedded in policy and government strategies’.

Currently, the coalition feels that ‘not enough is being done to ensure that patients are included in the evolving policy discussions surrounding the development, implementation, or evaluation of digital health technologies in the UK, […] the danger is that these technologies end up as something done ‘to’ patients rather than ‘with’ and ‘for’ them.’

Discussing policy changes with patients ensure that any changes made are truly in their best interest. Consulting with a wide variety of diverse patients with diverse experiences will ensure the new policies benefit the entire population, not just those in the majority.

 

The coalition’s objectives

The coalition has already laid out its objectives for the next year which tackle a wide range of issues surrounding the patient experience of digital health. Firstly, they will ensure providers support patients in accessing the digital health tech available to them. They will also prioritise digital assurance so that patients not only have access to digital NHS services but feel confident doing so – no matter where they are in the UK. Digital solutions have the potential to make healthcare more equally accessible than ever, but digital divides still need to be addressed in order for this to be effective.

Through patient engagement, the coalition also intends to find out how patients prefer to access services, giving them ‘the choice of how they receive care, and empowering them to make that decision for themselves’. The coalition intends to then use all of the information gathered through patient consultations to inform policymakers on what good digital health practice looks like. This will include ensuring that there are clear regulations for the collection, sharing and use of patient data.

Rachel Power, chair of the coalition, said:

‘The reason why all these fantastic partners from across the health landscape have agreed to join this Coalition is because we are all united by the common belief that more needs to be done to put patients at the heart of digital health. It really is an issue of collaboration and making sure that patients are consulted throughout the policymaking process and that their priorities and interests are at the core of policy decisions.’

Consulting patients throughout policymaking is so obviously important that it seems strange that this coalition is even necessary. Unfortunately, many healthcare policy decisions are made on a UK-wide basis and do not take the diverse needs of individual providers and patients into account. Additionally, resource limitations can mean that funding and staffing considerations can come before individual patient needs.

Uday Bose, Country Managing Director and Head of Human Pharma at Boehringer Ingelheim, said that the coalition is ‘a fantastic example of a cross-sector group bringing their diverse perspectives and experience to focus on the patient perspective in digital health.’ Boehringer Ingelheim shares ‘the ambition that digital health technology is shaped and developed together with the patient to ensure critical aspects of design, access and building confidence are considered.’

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