The United Kingdom recently announced a five-year framework to deliver more seamless, transparent and personalized digital health solutions for citizens and residents.

National health leaders in the UK recently unveiled an ambitious digital health strategy that would make health records readily available to every patient at the touch of a button. The Department of Health’s National Information Board (NIB) said that the framework will help the National Health Service (NHS) harness mHealth and health information technology to become more cost-efficient and improve the delivery of care, amid rising demand for digital health services across all age groups.

Under the “Personalised health and care 2020: a framework for action” mapped out by the NIB for the next five years, UK residents will have: 

• access to their GP records via trusted smartphone apps and digital platforms by spring 2015

• a mobile Personal Child Health Record (“red book”) for mothers stored in a tablet or a smartphone by 2016

• full access to all health records from hospitals, community, mental health and social care services by 2017, including the ability to record personal notes alongside official medical records

• improved benefits from newly-developed personalized medicines and novel treatments from the NHS and UK’s leading genomics research initiatives.

Care providers will be able to use:

• an EHR across the health system for urgent care services by 2018 and for all services by 2020

• real time data for use by paramedics, doctors and nurses at the point of care

• all NHS-funded care services, which are expected to become digital and interoperable by 2020

“I want the NHS to be a world class showcase of what innovation can achieve. Today’s plan sets out how we can give patients 21st century, personalised healthcare,” Secretary of State Jeremy Hunt said in a statement accompanying the news release.

“We must embrace modern technology to help us lead healthier lives, and if we want - to take more control when we are ill,” added Tim Kelsey, National Informatics Director. “Our ambition is to make the NHS a digital pioneer for our patients and citizens.”

Digital Health Vision

The unified national vision of the NIB combines all other recent initiatives in digital health, namely: the Department of Health’s Digital Strategy: Leading the Culture Change in Health and Care (2012) and Power of Information (2012), the Government Digital Strategy (2013), the Care Act 2014, and the NHS’s Five Year Forward View.

The NIB said that the framework will be reviewed every year to adapt to changing conditions in the healthcare landscape in the UK and new technologies. The strategy is not a comprehensive plan at this time, consisting mainly of general goals with estimated dates of completion. But later this year, the NIB said it will release “roadmaps” which will describe “in greater detail ‘who will do what’ to transform digital care” in the UK.

An Opportunity for the Taking

According to stats provided by the NIB, as of 2014, some 59% of all citizens in the UK have a smartphone and 84% of adults use the Internet. However, only 2% have had digital transactions with the NHS. The numbers underscore the glaring gap in the potential for digital health services versus what the system currently provides. With the new framework, the NHS and its newly-formed body, the NIB, aim to capitalize on the opportunity.

“If you walk the corridors of most hospitals, you see rows and rows of paper-based notes that clinicians have to access when caring for patients,” Dr. Paul Rice, Head of Technology Strategy for NHS England said in The Kings Fund/International Innovation paper covering this year’s International Digital Health and Care Congress. “We need to move to a place where all of that information is available at the touch of a button.”

Online Health Services and Mobile Apps

Dr. Rice adds that “there are significant programmes of change going on around booking and online transactions, electronic prescribing, access to medicine through NHS Choices, and access of information.” The NIB claims that there are now 40 million users of NHS Choices every month, including 5 million healthcare professionals who use the site as a solid source of trusted information and advice.

The NHS Choices’ ‘Health Apps Library’ “provides an interesting snapshot into what a fully-digitised NHS could look like,” according to a PwC UK article.

“From measuring your happiness, to tracking your alcohol consumption and fitness levels, the Apps Library provides a starting point for the Personal Healthcare Revolution.”

A growing number of digital health users are over the age of 65, a category that has more than tripled between 2006 and 2013, according to the Office of National Statistics, per an article in The Telegraph. The same report cites recent research by Accenture, revealing that “27 per cent of senior citizens in England are self-tracking some aspect of their health,” but only a third of care providers in the UK are able to provide these services. UK’s new framework aims to fast-track digital health solutions in the next five years.

Jof Enriquez is a registered nurse, medical writer and healthcare journalist. You can follow him on Twitter @jofenriq.