Healthcare in the 2020s. The age of digital healthcare?

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The start of the 2020s has seen healthcare services being tested in ways previously unimaginable. The emergence of the COVID-19 global pandemic has changed ‘normality’ across a variety of sectors. As face-to-face interactions have become limited, the digitalisation of our everyday life has become more and more important, and healthcare is no different.

COVID has led to an increased focus on this move towards digital health; whether for test and track based services, ordering prescriptions or ‘chatbot’ based systems to avoid face-to-face health enquiries or consultation. Within maternity services, there has been a necessary shift in the delivery of care. Essential scans and antenatal care are being offered within a single appointment,1 and the use of video or telephone is helping reduce face-to-face contact.2 With pregnant women placed in the vulnerable group category these measures are necessary to reduce the spread of coronavirus. But who is to say this will not be the new normal moving forward?

One element of maternity care is ensuring healthy weight management of mums and their baby. But without adequate support, there is an increased risk of obesity and diabetes. Yet during COVID we have seen the power of online digital health in the form of online weight management classes, put on by gyms and fitness professionals alike, for people to enjoy at home.

Even before COVID, digitalisation within healthcare was emerging as the way forward. In the United Kingdom, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock MP, has repeatedly outlined the case that “better technology should be a strategic priority for the NHS”3 and his intention to bring his “unsurpassable enthusiasm for tech to Britain’s health and social care system”.4 It came as no surprise that digitally-enabled care and technology features prominently in the NHS Long Term Plan published in January 2019.5

But it is not just in the UK that technology is shaping the future of healthcare. In Australia, the national government has outlined their intention for a digital health system,6 ensuring that any digital solutions improve accessibility, are safe, health effective and cost effective to the public purse.7 Within the European Union, EU policies constantly emphasise the importance of digital solutions,8 and the potential for digital health to strengthen citizen empowerment and individual care through earlier intervention and addressing the rising demand for healthcare.9

The need for human interaction

These policies and strategies were developed before COVID. But if there is one thing the pandemic has highlighted, it is the human need for interaction, arguably the glue that holds successful healthcare delivery together. We did not clap for health technologies but for our frontline healthcare professionals who fought and are still fighting to ensure we remain healthy. And this is where digital health is lacking. Can video or phone calls really give pregnant women ease of mind during an exciting but sometimes scary time? Can a leaflet really help them with successful healthy weight management or give them the tools to feel empowered and in control? Even tech-focused Matt Hancock MP, has acknowledged the importance of people… “tech can’t replace people”.10 But what if it does not have to? The power of digital health is that it can reach more people, more easily and more quickly than traditional methods. Something which will become more prevalent as we move towards the ‘new normal’ in the wake of the pandemic, and as the demand for health services increase.

Our Bump2Baby and Me project looks to incorporate the very best of technology and digital health, but with people and human interaction as a key element of the intervention. Linking mums to a real health coach through an app, it has the ‘head’ of technology, but the ‘heart’ of people required for successful healthcare. As we eventually look towards post-COVID and healthcare in the 2020s, digital healthcare will play a crucial role in health policy moving forward. However, to ensure we do not lose sense of what has made healthcare so successful, keeping it linked with people and those professionals who have been at the forefront of our thoughts has never been so important.

by Mitchell Salter


1Pregnancy and Coronavirus Guidelines, Tommy’s website

2COVID-19 and Pregnancy Care, Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust

3Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Matt Hancock’s keynote address to the Healthtech Alliance, January 2020

4Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Matt Hancock’s speech at NHS Expo 2018

5NHS Long Term Plan, January 2019

6Australia’s National Digital Health Strategy


8Assessing the impact of digital transformation of health services, European Commission, 2019


10Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Matt Hancock speech at the Public Health England Annual Conference in Warwick, 2019