Zahid Deen, the ALLIANCE, discusses emerging public sector eHealth options which could transform health and social care services.
Note: For the purposes of this article eHealth has been defined as ‘healthcare provided online i.e. over the internet’. However, eHealth is sometimes used more broadly to refer to a range of technologies and applications used in healthcare, including for example text messaging.
A different and better experience
Accessing health and social care services can feel like a series of ‘stops and starts’. Or a world where others seem to be in the driving seat. You queue on the phone to make a GP appointment or to be told your test results. You rely on the letter in the post to find out about your hospital or clinic referral. You travel and wait your turn to meet different clinicians. You repeat your story, update them on your progress and get medical advice and/or treatment.
But imagine a future where you interact with health related services through a few clicks on your smartphone, tablet or PC. You can book appointments, order prescriptions and view your test results and medical record. You can do this easily at a time that suits you in one web site or app – which you also use to get relevant health information and support.
You become more informed about your condition, your care and so become more empowered. You feel more capable to self manage your health and start to add your own notes to your health record.
Both you and all the staff involved in your care can see your latest medical record. So when you meet different clinicians, you can move your discussion straight to the future management of your condition. And instead of travelling to the appointment you use an online ‘video call’ from the comfort of your own home.
That is just some of the potential. The extent to which it materialises will depend on many factors, including whether you have access to broadband and the skills to use the eHealth options being delivered locally and nationally.
Increasing eHealth options in Scotland
eHealth options will increase markedly over the coming years, partly through projects driven by the public sector. If you have access to the internet through a device such as a smartphone, tablet, laptop or PC, you will ultimately have online options to:
- book GP appointments and order repeat prescriptions
- see your medical record including test results, consultations, letters, vaccinations etc; and
- contribute information to your health record – related to your condition(s) and potentially data downloaded direct from your (smartphone or tablet) health and fitness apps.
The Scottish Government is examining how best to deliver these eHealth options and considering what other ones could be made available.
For instance, ‘video appointments’ (which allow people and clinicians to see and speak to each other online) are being trialled in some care homes and remote areas. This might be extended to more people enabling some healthcare to be provided more conveniently.
These eHealth services will be additional options which will not replace existing methods of access. So you will still be able to phone to make an appointment and to meet your GP in person. However there is some concern about the unintended consequences from widespread eHealth use, such as a possible reduction in the face to face communication between people and clinical staff that can be vital to building trust.
Putting people at the heart of eHealth
At the ALLIANCE, we want to help bring the input of the third sector and the voice of lived experience into national eHealth programmes. We think people should have the opportunity to provide ideas on eHealth options and be involved in their design. Fundamentally, we believe eHealth should reflect what people want and be simple to use, so it is useful. This could help fulfil eHealth’s potential to improve the delivery and experience of health and social care in Scotland.
As part of our work, we are organising events to ask people living with long term conditions for their views on potential eHealth services. These events will be notified to our membership and we encourage people to attend them to have their say on eHealth.