Page last updated at 00:54 GMT, Friday, 24 October 2008 01:54 UK

NHS 'not making enough use of IT'

Computer keyboard
The NHS is in the middle of a 12bn upgrade of the IT it uses

The health service must be more innovative in its use of everyday technology to improve care for patients, experts say.

The King's Fund health think tank said the NHS was lagging behind other sectors such as banking and travel.

Its report recommended that more use be made of video-conferencing or webchats - and that patients should be able to send and receive e-mails from their GP.

It comes as the health service is in the process of a 12bn IT revamp.

When it comes to our health care, patients aren't even able to use basic technologies
Anna Dixon, of the King's Fund

The 10-year upgrade in England will see the introduction of electronic care records and online booking for hospital appointments.

Similar programmes are also being implemented in Wales and Scotland.

But the King's Fund report said the NHS could go much further by making the most of e-mail and the internet.

While 17m people bank online and over half of people book their holidays via the web, e-mail correspondence with GPs is virtually unheard of.

The King's Fund said the NHS could send tests results out via e-mail or allow patients to have webchats with doctors - both of which would improve the patient experience.


The report also proposed using video conferencing between senior hospital doctors and a patient's family, when one is at a sick one's bedside and the other is elsewhere.

It said improving the use of technology would be particularly helpful to people with long-term conditions such as diabetes who had the most contact with the NHS.

Lord Darzi's review of the NHS, published in July, made innovation and technology a priority for the health service, giving regional health bosses a duty to promote innovation.

But the King's Fund said such a vision risked being not realised because of a lack of incentives, resources and leadership.

Anna Dixon, the King's Fund director of policy, said: "There are information technologies in most homes and pockets that could transform health care and the way it is delivered.

"These are not futuristic, these are technologies we use day-to-day. But when it comes to our health care, patients aren't even able to use basic technologies."

A Department of Health spokesperson said: "We agree that the NHS needs to do better at using technology.

"Many patients already book their GP or hospital appointments online.

"This should be routine throughout the service as should telephone or email consultation.

"Forward looking surgeries and hospitals already provide these. People are also increasingly using websites like NHS Choices to decide which hospital to go to for a particular treatment or operation or choose their GP." The spokesperson added the NHS National Programme for IT was the largest health IT programme in the world and was saving time, lives and money.

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