In the next decade, most of the population will have grown up with the internet, social media and mobile technology. Four digital natives outline what this might mean for the NHS.
Demographic change is undoubtedly putting the NHS under pressure, as our NHS@75 report shows. But over the next 10 years, changing digital demographics may have a bigger impact on the future shape of the NHS.
‘We are more willing to share our personal data than previous generations. This could be a great asset for the NHS’
For digital natives, like us, who were born and grew up surrounded by the internet, social media and mobile technology, digital isn’t just the latest fad; it’s how we live our lives. This means we expect different things from our NHS, but it can also expect different things from us, from our uptake of new technologies, to our openness about sharing information and willingness to take more responsibility for our own health and wellbeing.
As the smartphone revolution has taken hold, so has a culture of self-monitoring. Health apps enable people to study their health like never before. We can self-diagnose, review health indicators and access vital support. Introducing elements of competition, as many health apps already do, could help to engage younger generations with their health and ultimately reduce the strain on the NHS.
For the NHS, adopting a “my account” scheme allowing people to access their personal information could support the delivery of integrated care and capitalise on the growing trend of self-data gathering. Harnessing and analysing this information at population level to make intelligent suggestions on diagnosis or treatment would be the next step.
Having grown up with social media, we are more willing to share our personal data than previous generations. This could be a great asset for the NHS. But it should be careful not to mistake this trust for carelessness.
‘The NHS needs to design and develop new ways of working based on the digital realities of patients’ everyday lives’
More 18-29 year olds actively manage the amount of personal information online than any other age group. We are trusting because we have control over what we share (or feel we do). The NHS needs to provide comparable levels of control to avoid alienating us.
With the current rate of innovation, the technology we are fixated on today such as mobile apps and handheld devices will be out of date in the next decade: we should be thinking about wearable technologies such as Google Glass or even retina chips. Although new technology is no panacea, it is exciting to imagine how the NHS and the public could make use of these new mediums of contact and self-management tools.
For the NHS to fully embrace the potential of digital, commissioners and providers need to engage with patients and the public to design and develop new ways of working based on the digital realities of their everyday lives.
Tom Hooper, Nick Matthews, Camila Russell and Ben Stell are associates at PwC