The spread of information, communications technology and global interconnectedness has great potential to accelerate human progress, bridging the digital divide and developing knowledge societies. It is clear that technology-enabled breakthroughs in the provision of healthcare can lead to greater numbers of citizens having access to services and data that might previously have been out of reach or unaffordable.
However, to achieve true health equality, we need to rethink the fundamentals of integrated healthcare and technology.
While healthcare providers have raced to digitalise their processes, research shows that only 64% of the UK working population (IPSOS, Essential Digital Skills UK, 2021) and 56% of European citizens have the basic digital skills (European Commission, 2021) necessary to interact with current digital health systems – often patient portals and/or native mobile applications (‘apps’).
This has led to hospital-centric solutions rather than tools for patient engagement that are outwardly and empathetically communicative (Gabutti et al, 2017). In turn this led to a proliferation in form-filling, often by patients who are feeling particularly alone and vulnerable.
Digital access has become a social determinant of health
Healthcare should not only be accessible to citizens who are digitally literate, which is why we must re-think the patient experience to make it human-centered.
Existing solutions (commonly seen in hospitals) which seek to improve patient agency, increase the ‘problem’ as they extend the traditional functions of the hospitals into web portals. This increases digital literacy requirements and complexity (eg. form-filling), reenforces asynchronous channels (eg. difficult-to-use websites), ignores language barriers (which are critical for migrated citizens) and constricts effective access to public health.
This divide is further exacerbated by age as well as socioeconomical disadvantages or social isolation. In times when health services are increasingly offered online, this divide may predispose people with high needs for services, to be excluded from them. Existing solutions do not display empathy, cannot understand natural language, are generally not multi-lingual and do not support multi-channel access (including voice recognition).
We need a solution which focuses on achieving three goals:
- Digital Inclusion: Lowering the engagement bar for patients by facilitating access to participate through language & channels commonly used in everyday life at a time that suits the patient.
- Health Equity: Granting equal access to quality care regardless of skill reducing healthcare disparities.
- Patient Centricity: Automating clinical pathways end-to-end with empathy supporting the reduction in human intervention unless by design or patient-requested.