Technology and all things digital have been front and centre within the health sector recently. There has been a real focus on making use of technology to improve care, as well as to try and realise efficiencies and make cost savings.

We’ve recently seen NHS Digital’s roll-out of the new NHS app, on which we provided information governance advice and support. The app provides a simple and secure way for patients across England to access healthcare services on their smartphone or tablet, allowing patients to view their health records, book GP appointments, as well as confirm their data sharing and organ donation preferences. The app has the potential to revolutionise healthcare, by making services more accessible to patients and allowing them to update their data preferences at the touch of a button.

The outcome of the Topol Review has also been published, which considers how technological and other developments (such as including genomics, artificial intelligence, digital medicine and robotics) are likely to impact health and social care staff. The focus is on preparing the healthcare workforce for these digital changes. The review reiterated the importance of ensuring that a legally enforceable and effective data governance framework is in place, and that any data sharing is responsible and ethical.

We also saw the publication of the NHS Long Term Plan earlier this year. As envisaged by the Topol Review, the broad vision is to make digitally-enabled care mainstream across the NHS. Alongside the Government’s Code of Conduct for Data-driven Health and Care, published towards the end of 2018, this should be seen as a consistent aspiration to embrace the benefits of technology. Commissioners and providers, including those in the medical technology sector, now have clearer opportunities than ever before to turn the NHS into a modern, cutting-edge service. For more information about the NHS Long Term Plan and its data initiatives, you can read our article here.

The focus on the use of technology provides a great opportunity to drive forward innovation and excellence within healthcare. However, with these opportunities also comes information governance challenges. Patient data is at the very heart of the health sector and many of you will recall that previous data initiatives within the sector have led to failure due to lack of transparency and trust. It is therefore imperative that organisations ensure that any new changes are handled sensitively and transparently. If you require any support on issues such as these, please feel free get in touch with our specialist health sector information governance team.

There has also been a recent case which has emerged in the field of medical negligence whereby a Dutch surgeon was successful in a legal action against Google Inc to remove search results relating to a website containing an unofficial 'blacklist of doctors' and which included the surgeon's name. For further information about this, please click here.