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Technology investment must be matched by improving staff’s ‘digital literacy,’ review says

Technology investment must be matched by improving staff’s ‘digital literacy,’ review says
By Valeria Fiore Reporter
11 February 2019

Implementing new technologies across the NHS has the potential to improve patient care and health outcomes but staff needs to be properly trained, a review published today has said.

The Topol Review suggested that the successful implementation of new technologies in the NHS needs to be matched by investment in people.

Genomics, digital medicine, artificial intelligence and robotics are only some of the digital healthcare technologies that will change clinical professions as we know them today, according to the review.

Led by California-based cardiologist, geneticist, and digital medicine expert Dr Eric Topol, the review was commissioned in 2017 by the then health and social care secretary Jeremy Hunt and produced by Health Education England (HEE).

The review added: ‘Developing the digital and genomic literacy of the existing healthcare workforce is as important as the education and training of those at the start of their careers.

HEE’s workforce strategy calculates that more than 50% of today’s workforce will still be working in the service in 15 years’ time and most are, at best, self-taught in digital technology.’


The review put forward a series of recommendations to which the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) will formally respond ‘in due course’.

Among these, it suggests for NHS boards to ‘take responsibility for effective knowledge management to enable staff to learn from experience (both successes and failures) and accelerate the adoption of proven innovations’.

The review also recommended that the NHS buys ‘flexible and responsive training for specialist roles’, while all NHS organisations should ‘assign board-level responsibility’ when deciding to adopt digital healthcare technologies at scale.

Three principles

Three principles should guide the future workforce strategy when it comes to healthcare technologies, according to the review.

  • Citizens, patients and carers: technology should empower and engage people with their health
  • Evidence: digital technology should be backed up by compelling evidence before it is adopted
  • Time: technology should free up more time for clinicians to spend on direct patient care, when possible

Commenting on the review, Dr Topol said: ‘I believe, this revolution has the potential, if grasped, to greatly strengthen patient-doctor relationships, release more professional time to care more, and reduce the burnout we can see in a significant proportion of clinicians today.’

HEE chief executive Professor Ian Cumming said that together with NHS Improvement, the organisation will work to make these recommendations a reality as they develop the workforce implementation plan.

Responding to the Topol Review, chief executive of NHS Employers Danny Mortimer said:

‘Clearly there is a lot of work ahead for employers to work with our teams and our patients to design, implement and embed new technologies to support the delivery of care to our communities.  

‘The deployment of technology will of course require significant resource and investment and we would repeat that this needs to be properly funded by government and not left to already stretched individual NHS trusts to dig even deeper to fund.’

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