Head To Head

Should all NHS premises provide free access to wi-fi?

BMJ 2015; 351 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.h4098 (Published 12 August 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;351:h4098
  1. Victoria Betton, mHabitat programme director, Leeds and York Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, Leeds, UK,
  2. Grant Ingrams, deputy chair, IT subcommittee of the BMA General Practitioners Committee, London, UK
  1. Correspondence to: V Betton victoria.betton{at}nhs.net, G Ingrams gji{at}nhs.net

Internet access is not only expected by patients but also essential to shared decision making and better outcomes, says Victoria Betton. But Grant Ingrams thinks widespread deployment of wi-fi is a luxury that mustn’t take priority over other technological needs

Yes—Victoria Betton

Aspirations for digital technology to transform health and care systems are high. The UK government’s report Personalised Health and Care 2020 sets out a framework for digital technology to improve patients’ experience and outcomes with more efficient services.1 Citizens will have full access to their care records, an expanding set of NHS accredited health and care apps, and digital information services. We will transact with health services by accessing diagnostic results, ordering prescriptions, and contributing patient generated information to our care record.

This bold ambition can be realised only with digitally engaged citizens and the removal of barriers such as lack of access to public wi-fi in healthcare settings. The health divide will widen unless action is taken to ensure that people who are digitally less confident have access to their health information and can make sense of it.2

Digital ubiquity

Digital technologies are increasingly widespread in day to day life, but healthcare seems to lag behind other sectors and the expectations of citizens.1 The telecommunications regulator Ofcom says that 93% of UK adults have a mobile phone and 61% have a smartphone.3 The 2013 Oxford Survey of Internet Cultures, which included around 2600 UK adults, indicated a trend for people to use their mobile handset to access the internet and a growth in “next generation users,” who use multiple devices on the move.4

We have seen substantial increases in use of the internet for phone calls, instant messaging, and entertainment, with 69% of adults using the internet to find health information and a steady …

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