Confed Viewpoint blogs

How to harness the potential of patient-facing technology

Patients are ready to use technology to help manage their own healthcare, but how can healthcare professionals harness this potential?
Dr Layla McCay

24 April 2024

While it was found there is public appetite to use technology in managing healthcare, it was also found that healthcare professionals need support in advancing this. To help, the NHS Confederation consulted with healthcare digital leaders, resulting in practical guidance.  


This article first appeared in Healthcare Leader on 24 April 2024.

Imagine a world in which patients feel confident using patient-facing technology, like wearables and apps, as part of their routine care and management; where they can be proactively contacted before issues arise because their health data is being securely monitored by a healthcare professional; and where, because a large proportion of patients are able to be managed digitally, there is more time and headspace for clinicians to engage with underserved communities who may not want to or be able to access digital care.

72 per cent of survey respondents said they would use technology to avoid a hospital admission

Last year NHS Confederation, supported by Google Health, commissioned Ipsos Mori to survey 1,000 adults in the UK with the results showing the population in this country is ready to embrace technology as part of their healthcare management. The survey indicated people want more control over their health but want their actions, and the tools they use, to be endorsed by a healthcare professional. Across all age groups, 72 per cent of survey respondents said they would use technology to avoid a hospital admission, with a similar proportion happy to monitor their health and share information and data with doctors. Clearly, there is appetite to move towards more digitally enabled pathways.

Following this research, we identified that while there was public appetite, there was less information available for healthcare professionals around how to harness the potential of patient-facing technology within their organisations. To understand this in more detail, we held interviews and an interactive workshop with digital leaders in healthcare to identify the levers and barriers to using patient-facing technology and to determine what was required to make progress.

Five key components emerged to successfully harness the potential of patient-facing technology.

  1. The importance of integrated IT systems. The potential of apps and wearables can only be fully realised when there is IT infrastructure in place to support them. Leaders must consider how to design solutions to solve the root cause of a problem, and how to continually keep interoperability in mind. Ensuring integration and connectivity within and between organisations is key for patient-facing technology to succeed and should be front of mind for health leaders and in national discussions.
  2. Emphasis needs to be placed on educating and raising awareness on the benefits of patient-facing technology. This includes gaining a detailed understanding of the patient experience of using the technology and ensuring staff know how to appropriately communicate how and why patient-facing technology is being used. Raising awareness of the options available to patients, be they technology focussed, or more traditional methods of care is also important.
  3. Patient access and appropriate implementation of technologies is critical. Leaders must be conscious that introducing new patient-facing technology should not exacerbate health inequalities. Access for all patient groups should be kept in mind and processes designed to reflect this, including ensuring that technologies that are not having the intended impact, or worse, having a negative impact for certain groups are withdrawn from use swiftly. When introducing patient-facing technology the entire change from scoping to monitoring should be considered, not just the technology itself.
  4. Innovative finance models that take a population health view, for example, outcomes-based contracts can help ensure patient-facing technologies are introduced in an appropriate way. When finances are designed in this way, patient outcomes are central to success and there is a greater incentive to ensure health inequalities are reduced. Multi-year budgets would enable the longer time horizons required to properly scope, deliver and monitor technology projects. Given the push for working across organisational boundaries, there is also the potential to take advantage of economies of scale for patient-facing technology projects.
  5. Collaboration is a common thread throughout all activities. Patient-facing technology projects need to be co-designed with the end users (patients and other service users), and all parties who will be involved in the roll out of the technology. There should be an active effort to ensure communities who do not traditionally engage with healthcare are consulted. Collaboration could also occur across sectors, sharing learnings and signalling the needs of the systems to technology leaders.

It is within systems’ gift to harness the potential of patient-facing technology 

Systems are now in a place where they can take a large-scale view and make connections within and between organisations to advance the technology agenda. To support systems in this journey, the NHS Confederation, supported by Google Health, has developed practical guidance for digital leaders within NHS organisations to help them identify what they can start doing now to help harness the potential of patient-facing technology.

It is within systems’ gift to harness the potential of patient-facing technology and make what feels like an aspirational future a reality. We are excited to see what happens in this space, and hope you are too.

Layla McCay is director of policy NHS Confederation. You can follow Layla on X @LaylaMcCay