Barriers & opportunities to digital health programme

Doctors and medical staff at work

The UK’s current healthcare system, as well as its wider population, and market, is not yet entirely ready for a wide-scale digital health programme or digital health platforms – but the challenges are not insurmountable, according to new research involving the University of Strathclyde.

The study reports on key barriers and facilitators to implementing a digital health programme and offers recommendations to aid and accelerate uptake in the digital health field, through programmes such as apps, personal health records, telehealth and wearable activity trackers.

The recommendations include:

  • further commitment and investment in digital healthcare at national and local level
  • support for those who are not digitally fluent
  • training the next generation of health professionals to make them more digitally able and upgrading the technical capabilities of the health service.

The research, led at the University of Glasgow, has been published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research.

Dr Marilyn Lennon, a Senior Lecturer in Strathclyde's Department of Computer & Information Sciences and co-leader of the study, said: “Digital health is a huge market with the potential to make a massive impact on society, but making it a part of routine care delivery has been much slower than expected.

“This is not due to any lack of technical innovation, but to uncertainty over the role of technology in delivering care. There’s also uncertainty about managing and using health data - many people go online to do banking or to use social media but seem wary about doing the same for health. Sharing this data with doctors or friends and family, for example, could avoid GP visits or prolonged stays in hospital.

“Our research responds to calls for exploration of current barriers to the wide scale adoption of digital health, and offers recommendations that could help to realise its full potential.”

The researchers found that, while there is receptiveness to digital health, key barriers remain at every level - market and policy level, organisational level and within the general professional and public population. However, intensive engagement, clinical endorsement and upskilling efforts can prove beneficial.

Challenges to implementation

Factors hindering implementation included: a lack of IT infrastructure, including universal broadband; uncertainty around information governance, and trust in the security of digital health platforms.

The commercial market was perceived as difficult to navigate, with concerns over accountability and liability within the commercial sector.

The study, which also involved Newcastle University and was funded by Innovate UK, evaluated the £37 million digital health programme, Delivering Assisted Living Lifestyles at Scale (dallas), between 2012 and 2015.

The dallas programme aimed to develop and implement a range of digital health products to enable self-care and preventative care. To understand the barriers and hurdles faced during the programme, the researchers interviewed people involved and examined a vast quantity of documentary evidence over the course of the three-year project.

Researchers took care to include representatives from all types of organisations involved, including private, public and voluntary, along with people at all levels of the project, from management to those delivering the project to patients. Focus groups were also held with digital health users, including patients and health professionals, to gain their insight.

The dallas programme was funded by Innovate UK, The National Institute for Health Research, the Scottish Government, Scottish Enterprise and Highlands and Islands Enterprise.

Strathclyde hosts Scotland’s Digital Health and Care Institute (DHI), one of three Scottish Government funded Innovation Centres hosted or located at the University. DHI brings together people and organisations in the public, charity, technology, design and academic sectors to develop new ideas for digital technology that will improve health and care services. Its ambition is to address needs in Scotland and support companies to export proven technologies, creating jobs and investment locally and helping other countries to solve similar health challenges.

World number one tennis player Sir Andy Murray acts as an ambassador for the Institute.