Is the mainstream media hampering adoption of healthcare technology?

I read with interest an article in the Sunday Express last week, which raised concerns about the introduction of “virtual clinics” claiming that “slashing appointments with a doctor and treating patients via computer will put lives at risk”. This seemed to me to be a typical example of how a major media publication can damage the uptake of new technology in the healthcare sector.

Despite the damming headline, ‘End of doctor’s surgery’, the article was well-balanced and discussed whether ‘Digital first’, a Department of Health initiative which aims to reduce unnecessary face-to-face contact between patients and healthcare professionals by incorporating technology into these interactions, would help or hinder NHS patients. So why didn’t the Sunday Express lead with a more positive spin?

Mainstream vs. industry publications

Health secretary, Jeremy Hunt last week put a “technology revolution” in his top four priorities in an article covered by Health Service Journal (HSJ), which portrayed a technological drive in a better light. The article is aimed at those in the healthcare industry and those who know how it works. The Sunday Express, on the other hand, targets a readership of over 1.5 million people, with 62% of those of an ABC1s adult demographic breakdown.

Resistance to technology can take many forms, not least from lobbying groups, ministers and industry associations. Concern about whether changes in technology put the patient at the centre of care, or purse strings of trusts, (reforms would save £2.9billion “almost immediately”) certainly makes good news ‘cannon fodder’ for large media companies, but also stimulates intelligent debate amongst industry titles.

National newspapers hold incredible influence on technology adoption in the UK healthcare sector, not least when you consider the average age of the Sunday Express reader is 56 years old. This audience, I would suggest, would be  fairly resistant to technology, (i.e. those who are in an older age bracket, or do not have the funds to purchase technology) as their values are more traditional and have not had the chance to embrace it. For example, patients with more disposable income, or those at an age where gadgets such as iPads and using Skype are the norm, will be comfortable using new technology, and of course, will see the benefits straightaway.

Media moguls need headlines

It’s also worth noting the decline of the printed newspaper industry. Media companies are now having to compete with government officials, NHS trusts and healthcare organisations telling their own stories through social media. Twitter now has over 10 million active users in the UK, and is fast-becoming a responsive and trustworthy way of consuming news.

This means any cultural, financial or technological change in the healthcare sector is immediately portrayed with fear by the mainstream media, who are driven by selling stories.

There is some irony here though. Mainstream news is increasingly being consumed via social media, email, on devices such as phones and tablets, where up-to-date information can be accessed whenever and wherever consumers demand. This type of technology will, in the future, be expected by today’s consumers, so we shouldn’t be scared to embrace it throughout our healthcare services.

And finally…

It’s worth noting that some media companies, such as the Guardian, have a dedicated network for the healthcare industry, and such news is more targeted and relevant to those who subscribe. They write reasoned and thought-provoking articles and blogs, which offer interesting debate. But like any article you pick up, read past the headline before making your mind up.

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