The health service is facing workforce shortages and growing backlogs of care, as well as future increases in demand. In response, policymakers and providers are looking to advances in health technologies and data to improve quality and efficiency and reshape services to better meet future needs – most recently with the announcement of £100m to advance the use of artificial intelligence in health care.
Ensuring new uses of health technologies or data have the backing of the public is critical if these are to become business as usual. As seen with the care.data scheme and the General Practice Data for Planning and Research programme, lack of public support can significantly constrain innovation and service transformation.
So how does the UK public feel about the use of health technologies and health data? To explore this further, in March 2023 the Health Foundation commissioned a nationally representative public survey to investigate attitudes towards health technology and data uses and the key factors affecting these views.
- The NHS is looking to advances in digital health technologies and data to help tackle current pressures and meet rising demand. But ensuring new uses of technology and data have the backing of the public is critical if they are to become business as usual.
- In March 2023, the Nuffield Trust commissioned a survey of 7,100 nationally representative members of the public (aged 16 years and older) to investigate their attitudes to uses of health technologies and data, and the key factors affecting their views.
- Overall, the public thinks technology improves the quality of health care and is supportive of its many possible uses. But not all technologies are equally liked: those that empower people to manage their health and better connect them with the NHS seem to be more popular, while those that could be seen to ‘come between’ the clinician and patient – like chatbots or care robots – are least popular.
- Women and those most likely to be on low or no income were significantly less positive about the use of health care technology than men or those more likely to be on higher incomes, respectively – highlighting the need to engage with a wide and representative range of the public when considering how technology could be used in health care.
- The public is, on balance, happy with a range of ways its data could be used outside direct care, such as for research or to develop new medicines. But with around 1 in 5 people resistant to their data being used in these ways, it is clear that policymakers, health care organisations, researchers and industry must work to grow trust in the use of health data.
- The public trusts NHS organisations more with their health data than government or commercial organisations, though younger people are less likely than older people to trust the NHS with their data. As policymakers and health care organisations plan public engagement exercises on the use of health data, it will be particularly important to ensure young people are effectively represented.