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UK’s NHS Makes mHealth, Telehealth a Priority in New 5-Year Plan

Armed with an expanded budget, the UK's National Health Service is launching an ambitious plan to give the nation's residents and healthcare providers more access to mHealth and telehealth resources by 2022-23.

Source: ThinkStock

By Eric Wicklund

- The UK’s National Health Service is looking to make telehealth and telemedicine a standard of care in five years – a policy that the organization says could save 500,000 lives.

Building on Prime Minister Theresa May’s expanded NHS budget unveiled last summer, the NHS unveiled is digital-first long-term plan this week, an ambitious effort that foresees mHealth access for every UK citizen to provide “longer and richer face-to-face consultations with clinicians where patients want it or need it” by 2022-23.

In remarks to the BBC, May called the plan “a truly historic moment.”

“Whether it’s treating ever more people in their communities, using the latest technology to tackle preventable diseases, or giving every baby the very best start in life, this government has given the NHS the multi-billion-pound investment needed to nurture and safeguard our nation’s health service for generations to come,” Matt Hancock, the UK’s Health and Social Care Secretary, said in a press release from the agency.

According to the NHS, the long-term plan has five goals:

  1. Empowering consumers;
  2. Supporting healthcare providers;
  3. Supporting clinical care;
  4. Improving population health; and
  5. Improving clinical efficiency and safety.

Among the keys to a digital health plan is the NHS app, which officials said should be available across the country by July, following a successful test this past year. The mHealth portal is designed to be the digital front door through which consumers can access their data and care providers, and is expected to replace some 30 million in-person doctor’s visits a year.

The plan could save 500,000 lives a year, according to the NHS, through earlier detection and treatment of chronic diseases and improved health and wellness efforts that reduce health complications.

As part of the increased funding, the NHS is planning on expanding several programs, including 24-hour mental health support, both for the public and in schools and DNA testing.

“Over the coming years we in NHS Digital, working closely with our partners across the system, will work to make digital access to health and care services as pervasive as it is now across other sectors,” NHS Digital Chief Executive Officer Sarah Wilkinson said in a press release. “The sophistication of commodity technology services, the plethora of advances in health technology, the track-record of reliable delivery which we have quietly laid down over recent years, and the passion and commitment of this Secretary of State to transforming these capabilities combine to make this a time of enormous opportunity and potential.”

“A key focus of the technology and digital agenda, as with the plan overall, is allowing patients to better manage their own health and care,” she added. “A broad spectrum of digital services will support individuals to take a much more proactive and responsible approach to monitoring their own health and well-being, enabling them to recognize their individual health risks and symptoms as early as possible, and manage their personal response to these risks. This, in turn, reduces the demand for health and care services.”

“We know how challenging it can be for organizations, particularly those under constant pressure to deliver critical services, to adopt new technology and digital systems,” Wilkinson concluded. “We are completely committed to supporting NHS organizations on all aspects of this journey from technical education, to integrating new technology into services and care pathways to the design of highly usable and accessible patient-facing solutions.”

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