Digital technology in healthcare needs to be accessible for everyone, and although health tech is the future, those who need care now must not be forgotten, according to Graham Ewart, CEO of medical device manufacturer Direct Healthcare Group (DHG), discussing his views exclusively with THIIS Magazine…


I was really interested to read that the World Health Organisation released a policy brief last month aimed at combating age-related bias in health-related artificial intelligence tools.

The need to ensure healthcare is all encompassing is a topic I’ve followed closely over the past five years, especially as technological innovations shape our sector, and of course, how Covid has changed our ways of working.

One area I was particularly struck by during the pandemic was how quickly digital GP appointments became the norm, and the resulting difficulty with which some patients were able to access (or not access) these services – whether this was because they don’t have access to a smartphone, iPad or video call platform, or simply because they weren’t familiarised with the process.

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For many, the feeling that the whole world is using technology you don’t understand can be a truly lonely experience. I feel a degree of this when I see kids aged six and up coding websites or animating cartoons, so I can, in a very small way, imagine how worrying it is when your healthcare depends on technology.

Access for everyone

Many GPs introduced programmes, or websites to aid this dilemma, and for the very elderly, face-to-face or home visits were still accessible, but there have been clear learnings over the past 24 months that if we introduce digital technology in healthcare, we need everyone to be able to access it and although health tech is the future, we mustn’t forget those who need care now.

Of course, there are benefits to digitalisation. A recent Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh webinar explained, for example, that virtual consulting has huge benefits for older patients, especially in remote rural areas, and for the environment, and a public engagement survey by Near Me in September 2021 found 76 per cent of respondents aged over 75 were supportive of video consulting.

But digital inclusion doesn’t just mean overcoming issues surrounding age. Rather it means we need to ensure we are providing healthcare for all demographics as one. This could mean those living in ​​areas with high levels of social deprivation (including migrant and homeless populations) who may not have the means to access smartphones, ipads, laptops, internet access or data, or patients who are vulnerable.

For these groups, accessing the right tech and connectivity remains a pressing issue and one that the health tech sector must overcome.

According to the latest Office for National Statistics figures (2019), 10 per cent of the adult UK population were classed as ‘internet non-users’ and an estimated 10.7 million people had limited or zero basic digital skills. The causes of this are complex, although poverty is central.

Digital technologies can bring huge efficiencies and improvement to healthcare and the idea of virtual health provision is exciting, but we can’t be short sighted to believe that everyone wants or can access the innovation being uncovered.

So while we must be careful not to assume everyone over a certain age, or below a certain wage level is dismissive of digital healthcare, we must be realistic that it is, for now, an add-on to be used alongside traditional face-to-face care, in order to ensure everyone has equal access to the care they deserve.

Technologies for everyone

We also need to ensure that, as the WHO made reference to, technologies are designed with everyone in mind.

There are multiple devices specifically aimed at seniors, but it’s still only a fraction of the tools aimed at young people, and in addition, the products designed can often be seen as insulting or patronising, where the tech companies often fall for prejudices about the people in those age groups. If we’re going to embrace tech in our sector, we need to bring all age groups into the R&D phase, rather than using outdated assumptions.

As Dr. Bertalan Mesko, PhD, the Director of The Medical Futurist Institute, recently said, “what is certain is that over 60s are definitely on the market and technology companies are trying to reach them. To be able to find each other they must start speaking the same language.”

There are many ‘what ifs’ in our sector, and Covid has shown us that not only can things change in an instant but that technologies can have huge benefits to the overall population, but we must remember that the ageing population is growing, and if we’re truly going to introduce a greater level of digitisation into healthcare, we need to bring everyone with us.

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https://thiis.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/computer-image-e1616577714297.jpghttps://thiis.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/computer-image-150x150.jpgLiane McIvorAnalysis & InsightsNewsroomNHSOpinions & CommentsSector Newsaccessible,DHG,digital,digitisation,Direct Healthcare Group,healthcare,inclusion,medical,technologiesDigital technology in healthcare needs to be accessible for everyone, and although health tech is the future, those who need care now must not be forgotten, according to Graham Ewart, CEO of medical device manufacturer Direct Healthcare Group (DHG), discussing his views exclusively with THIIS Magazine… I was really...News, views & products for mobility, access and independent living professionals