UK eHealth Week 2016 did not offer much in terms of big announcements, but what it lacked on this front it made up in terms of interesting conversation.

Dame Fiona announced that she could not announce anything about her review on patient data sharing. The Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) used the show to reveal its new name: NHS Digital. George Freeman, minister for life sciences, said the newly named organisation would provide “important information and IT services to ensure better care for patients”. What this actually means for its stakeholders will become clearer in the coming months.

But what the keynotes lacked in big bang announcements, the exhibition floor and breakout sessions made up in interesting conversations and ideas around how new technologies can transform the health services and help meet the aspirations of the Five Year Forward View and paperless 2020 agenda.

IT vendors such as CommonTime, Orion Health and Intersystems turned out to support the line-up of keynotes from the National Information Board, NHS England, HSCIC, and more. Key themes covered interoperability, health records, informatics leadership, genomics, vanguards and wearable technologies.

The last of which was of real interest. I recently blogged on how apps were helping me manage a healthier lifestyle – but what can apps do for those who need to self-care long-term conditions?

I found myself listening to Deborah EI-Sayed, head of multi-channel development at NHS England, as she talked through how wearables and apps might really support self-care. Set against the backdrop of an ageing population, a forecast £22bn NHS deficit by 2020, and claims of the NHS being 10 years behind in technology terms, patient facing apps were now on the rise.

Apps are not only said to be useful, but potentially lifesaving technological tools for the patient. The hardest part is getting people to actually use them, said EI-Sayed.

She showed a video which demonstrated how the Internet of Things, which connects a network of physical objects to collect and exchange data, can be a powerful tool. But technology alone could not be the answer; behaviour change needs careful consideration.

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As human beings and creatures of habit, it’s hard to listen when being told what to do and how to do it or how to change it and it’s even harder when a piece of technology is telling you to do so. Behavioural change is vital for these very helpful healthcare apps to actually work. We need to design and create these apps as intuitively as possible so that we can aid the behaviour change of the user.

So at an event where behavioural change was said to be so important, why were end users few and far between? While there was a good turnout of NHS digital industry leads at eHealth Week, it was a shame that there were not more CCIOs, clinical representatives and even patients to join the debates at the show. The event’s closing panel hinted that these kind of gatherings are where industry suppliers must pay close attention and put the effort into attend. But perhaps their real value could be in greater face to face discussion and sharing of ideas for those at the frontline of improving care and the people on the receiving end?

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