Call for poor and disabled to be given NHS fitness trackers

Fitness trackers should be prescribed on the NHS to stop a further widening of health inequality, a new review has warned.

Some of the poorest communities and disabled people could be left behind by the technology revolution in medicine unless action is taken, according to the report by the Social Market Foundation.

It warned that there is a growing risk that some vulnerable groups would not benefit from the innovations because they lack the skills or technology that others enjoy. Those most at risk are on the lowest incomes, who are also most likely to be in poor health or to have a disability.

Matt Hancock, the health secretary, has called for greater use of technology in health. He has also supported greater use of “social prescribing” where doctors connect patients to community services provided by councils or charities.

However, around 10% of UK households do not have internet access and one fifth of adults (21%) lack basic digital skills, with 16% not able to fill out an online application form, the SMF’s report said.

It found that 25% of those with a registered disability are offline, and that people with the lowest household incomes are the least likely to have basic digital skills and more likely to have several medical conditions. The SMF said the NHS should be ready to provide patients with personal technology to ensure they are not left behind, including “smart” scales, fitness trackers or smartphones.

“There is a risk that many of those who have the most to gain from condition self-management technology do not have the digital skills to benefit,” the SMF said. “If personal technologies, such as wearables or smart home devices become a primary delivery channel for improving health outcomes, there is a significant risk that only those who can afford the latest devices are able to benefit.

“This raises the question of how technology may influence the ability of the NHS to continue to offer a universal service accessible to all, if those from the most affluent backgrounds have better access to cutting-edge health technology.”

Kathryn Petrie, SMF economist and author of the report, said: “Technology has the potential to deliver better healthcare, but it is vitally important that those benefits are available to all, and not just the people with the means to take full advantage. Some NHS bodies are starting to think creatively about how to provide people with the support they need to live well – that should include greater support for using new technology.”

Source: https://www.theguardian.com/inequality/2019/may/04/fitbits-nhs-reduce-inequality-health-disability-poverty

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