As the NHS begins to embrace digital health, this seems to be an increasingly popular question being asked by service managers and clinicians.

There is no doubt that thoughtfully applied digital health and information resources will play a major role in creating improved clinical outcomes and effective self-management and health and social care. So, in an ever changing world of emerging digital capability we want to ensure that services will be effective both now and in the future.

Here’s some main principles that I keep in mind when considering a new digital health approach:

  • Is the offer actually addressing a real issue? Does it solve real NHS issues?
  • Do they provide an inclusive digital health offering which provides patients with a choice in how they interface with the approach e.g. automated phone call, SMS text messaging, email, online portal, smartphone app, SIM enabled product.
  • Is information governance at the heart of the service by means of compliance with appropriate key standards and governance systems e.g. NHS N3 security, IG toolkit or eGIF11?
  • Do they offer the link to NHS number validation which atomically verifies that a patient’s NHS number coincides with their data?
  • Is it a scaleable offer which allows the service to reach more patients with the same resources?
  • Make sure it doesn’t increase workload of an existing pathway unnecessarily. Adding work to busy people usually raises issues and reduces sustainability.
  • Where appropriate, can data link from the digital health system back to the patient’s primary care records?
  • Has the digital health approach been proven to be beneficial by way of evaluation with a reasonable number of patients? For example, 30 patients isn’t an evaluation.
  • Does the solution bring a variety of benefits for the patient whether it be clinical outcomes, lifestyle, well-being or financial savings?
  • Does the service provide necessary training for clinicians and services users to enable them to move to self-management? .

I and other colleagues have found this simple list helpful when considering digital health approaches, at least in the triage of offers and giving service managers some thinking time.

Final thought – beware the self appointed ‘expert’ and try to talk to people who have actually implemented a whole system change, not just the digital widget.