Effective uses of health technologies and data hold great potential for improving health care quality and efficiency. The public is broadly supportive of some of the most prominent current and potential uses of technology in healthcare – and, in many cases, would like to see them used more.
But this support varies depending on the technology itself, how it is applied and the characteristics of its user. For example, our findings suggest that women and those most likely to be on low or no income are significantly less supportive of many uses of technology in health care. These findings speak to the need to engage with a wide and representative range of the public when considering how technology could be used. Without this, the rollout of technologies may lead to uneven uptake among different social groups, with knock-on impacts on access and outcomes.
Over the coming years, policymakers and NHS leaders will need to prioritise meaningful public engagement on the future of technology in health care, both to understand and address concerns as well as raise awareness about and build confidence in new technology-enabled approaches. Again, it is important that this public engagement is inclusive, seeking out the voices of those who can often be excluded in public consultations.
Overall, there is public support for the use of data for purposes outside the delivery of care like service planning and research (also known as secondary uses), even where the data is identifiable and being used by commercial organisations. But this support is nuanced, with young people in particular appearing least likely to trust organisations with their health data for secondary uses. Moreover, the fact that many secondary uses of data are not supported by 1 in 5 people, even with anonymisation, could have significant implications for the quality and representativeness of data sets if these people were to opt out of their data being used in this way.
There is still work to do to grow trust in the use of health data. As we enter a period of what is likely to be intense public scrutiny following the award of the £330m contract to deliver NHS England’s Federated Data Platform, it will be critical to ensure that the collection, storage and use of data is trustworthy, and done in ways the public are supportive of, with any necessary risks properly controlled.
In recent years, national and local governments and public sector organisations across the UK have stepped up their public engagement on the use of health data in recognition of this challenge. For example, NHS England is planning large-scale engagement events in 2024 and 2025 as part of the Data Saves Lives Strategy – a welcome development. Given the differences in attitudes among age groups identified by our survey, it will be particularly important to ensure young people are effectively engaged so their perspectives can be heard and help influence future policy.