The government will invest up to £99,000 for new projects that can help doctors and patients communicate digitally, whilst also increasing access to online information.

The government is running the project in the form of a competition – dubbed the ‘Information Sharing Challenge Fund’ - and is looking for innovative ideas that change the way information is currently used and shared in the NHS.

NHS bodies can bid for funding if their ideas show value for money and can easily be adopted by other NHS organisations. The winning bid could receive as much as £99,000, but will most likely be around £50,000 - £75,000, according to the Department of Health.

Its raison d'être is so that NHS staff, clinicians and patients can access information when they need to, and patients can be involved in decisions about their care, fulfilling the government’s NHS motto: ‘No decision about me, without me’.

This is partly to harbour the rise of the so-called 'ePatients' in the UK, who are increasingly turning to online resources to communicate with clinicians and each other.

It is also being adopted just as the government starts to roll out a new system that allows patients’ data to be accessed online by the life sciences industry, amongst others.

Health minister Lord Howe said: “We have created this fund to encourage NHS organisations to come up with new digital ideas that not only improve services for patients, but help create an environment where local IT information can be more easily shared across the NHS.”

New digital strategy for the NHS

The funding boost is part of the NHS Information Strategy - launched in May this year - which aims to increase the use of information technology in the health service in a bid to help improve services for patients.

It is also supposed to be more cost effective as it can decrease the need for face-to-face appointments and hospital visits, potentially saving the cash-strapped NHS money.

A number of digital programmes have already been created under the NHS’ auspices, including the ‘Maternity Digital Capture’ and telehealth/telecare schemes.

These systems can help improve patient care by transferring data from digital systems, such as tablets, digital pens and remote patient monitoring systems, to central clinical records to be shared with patients and clinicians.

But the new digital strategy has not been welcomed by all – as the government announced that it would be expanding its telehealth scheme to three million people earlier this year, a new study from the London School of Economics states that telehealth “unlikely to be cost effective” in terms of improving quality of life.

Others – such as the doctors’ union the BMA – have also stressed the need for confidentiality in these new digital schemes, especially when it comes to publishing patient data.

Join the debate on the future of telehealth and its relationship with pharma at PharmaTimes’ ‘New Patient Pathways – Telehealth and Telecare’ meeting on 2 October. Click here for more information.