The politics of health technology does not put people first

Jeremy Hunt

The UK general election approaches, and the NHS is centre stage in the political debate. It will be interesting to see how far health technology features in The King’s Fund live online debate with health leaders on the 21st April. If the excellent questions asked by Government Computing on healthcare and technology aimed at the Conservative and Labour parties are anything to go by, technology will not actually feature that much.

Perhaps that is for the good; technology needs to become invisible, to become part of everyday life. However for the NHS and health technology, absence does not make the heart grow fonder. Clinicians still argue over the relative merits of health apps and wearables when they are an intrinsic part of everyday life, and the overall market is forecast to grow to $32 billion in four years.

Maybe this huge effort of swimming against the tide plays a part in many GPs’ plans to retire by 2020. Maybe it’s holding on to the medical model of care, which classifies people as conditions to be cured and solved. The social model of care sees people as people, and seeks to accommodate their needs. Based around thinking on disability, the Social Care Institute for Excellence has a brief tutorial.

Bigger hospitals and community care will not make a sustainable health service. We need to remember that patients are people who may need to use a range of services at some point in their lives. Technology can help them to do that. But it means building services around people’s needs, working with others in a way not seen before. Clinical expertise should be as accessible as advice on housing and employment advice. New models of care should put doctors in a supermarket, and not appoint yet more chief executives.

Perhaps the lack of talk on health technology in political circles is symptomatic of a self-serving and not self-service health system. You do not have to look too far to see which is most sustainable.

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