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New NHS Race & Health Observatory strategy considers technologies and inequalities

The NHS Race & Health Observatory, an independent body which works to identify and tackle ethnic inequalities in health and care, has released a new strategy for the next three years, covering 2021 – 2024.

Titled ‘Driving Race Equity in Health and Care’, the document covers a number of areas and priorities, including health and care, empowering vulnerable communities, equitable environments, global collaboration, and innovating for all.

In the dedicated section on innovations, the publication addresses technologies and inequalities – specifically how health tech, data and digital initiatives must be used to reduce inequalities, rather than exacerbate them.

The theme is a topical and crucial area within healthcare at the moment, considering the widespread NHS adoption of digital tools during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the push towards new technologies, with the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Sajid Javid, having recently ordered a review into racial bias in medical devices.

“Technological developments and a proliferation of data in health and care offer incredible opportunities for the future. Harnessing this technology could transform medicine forever,” states the NHS Race & Health Observatory strategy, “but we must recognise that the size and complexity of the health and care system means the adoption of new technologies is slow and often patchy.

“If properly adopted, these new technologies can help us eradicate ethnic inequalities in health and care,” the authors say but also highlight that, “alternatively, inattention to these new developments could further ingrain those inequalities.”

In its workstream in this area, the organisation reveals that it plans to “look at the development and deployment of digital tools – such as video consultations, health monitoring apps, and workforce management systems – and help gather evidence on how they can be used equitably.”

The organisation’s other focus is to “also look at what existing data can tell us about health inequalities and, where necessary, recommend areas where more data should be collected. This includes considering how ethnicity is coded across existing health and care pathways, and how disparities are measured as part of existing performance reporting.”

Keeping an eye on the future, as well, the Observatory says that a better understanding is also needed around “developments in areas such as genomics and precision medicine, the adoption of artificial intelligence in diagnostic processes, and beyond.”

Actions and intentions laid out in the strategy, to help the NHS Race & Health Observatory meet its aims, include: establishing an ‘advisory group of expert analysts, policymakers, clinicians, and academics’ to guide its focus over the next three years and ‘steer new research into digital inclusion, use of data, and emerging technologies’; developing an ‘interactive digital platform’ which will help ‘draw together data from a variety of sources to create a tool for system leaders to identify areas for attention, and to offer evidence-based solutions’, as well as acting as a repository for good practice; and engaging with ‘experts in emerging technologies’ to ‘commission and collaborate on experimental and forward-looking research’.

To read the new NHS Race & Health Observatory strategy in full, click here.