17-Dec-2013

NHS trusts 'struggling' to optimise digital patient records

Many NHS trusts are struggling to make the most out of the digitisation of patient records, according to industry experts.

Speaking to Building Better Healthcare this week, Dr Andrew Litt, chief medical officer at Dell, warned the Government’s drive for a paperless NHS by 2018 offered an opportunity to vastly improve the use of data within the health service.

“The healthcare industry is gaining access to immense amounts of data, but all of that data is useless without the analytic tools to transform it into actionable insight, the compute power to process the analysis quickly, and the networking tools to enable the appropriate clinicians, stakeholders and staff to access this information in near-real time,” he said.

“We want to help NHS organisations use the information they have more effectively, resulting in better healthcare services at a lower cost.”

But this drive towards a paperless NHS could be delayed if trusts do not seek advice from industry experts, he added.

Most healthcare organisations do not have the internal knowledge to really do the work that needs to be done. In the same way that doctors will bring in specialists to help with a medical diagnosis, trusts really need to bring in similar specialists to help meet the digital challenge

“Right now a lot of people employed in IT roles by healthcare trusts are people who are watching the blinking lights and making sure the server is up and running,” he said.

“Most healthcare organisations do not have the internal knowledge to really do the work that needs to be done. In the same way that doctors will bring in specialists to help with a medical diagnosis, trusts really need to bring in similar specialists to help meet the digital challenge.

“There is a huge opportunity for companies like Dell, and for the trusts themselves, to work together to optimise systems at a time when the healthcare market is going through a major transformation.

“Trusts need to use the knowledge that is out there to ensure systems are optimised.”

Key issues trusts should seek help to address, he said, include privacy, ensuring sensitive patient data is protected; and the issue of storage of information.

“Privacy is what concerns people the most, even more than the thought of financial data being made public,” he added. “Trusts need to focus not just on the big things, but make sure they have the expertise to control the smaller things, like ensuring all laptops and smartphone devices are encrypted.

Trusts need to focus not just on the big things, but make sure they have the expertise to control the smaller things, like ensuring all laptops and smartphone devices are encrypted

“We have been into trusts where chief information officers do not know where their data is. There are computers with information on them that they never knew existed and that is a risk.”

Dell has worked with a number of trusts to address this problem.

“We go in and review the data held by that organisation. This process results in a workplan that trusts can use to ensure a robust system is created,” Dr Litt said.

Another key opportunity for healthcare organisations is the increasing move towards cloud services.

It’s becoming increasingly difficult for healthcare providers to deal with the sheer size and volume of medical images as 16 and 32-slice scanners have made way for 256-slice scanners and the size of the average medical image has grown from 0.5 GB in 2008 to 3GB+ today.

This growth has made the archiving of images a challenge for healthcare organisations. More importantly, it has made accessing them a challenge for the medical professionals who must make diagnosis and treatment decisions using most-recent diagnostic data. The cloud is key to addressing both challenges – storage for hospitals and access for clinicians, Dr Litt claimed.

“Ultimately, with security and privacy being key, cloud companies are likely to provide high security and moving data into the cloud brings big advantages.

“There are no reports to date of encrypted data held in the cloud being hacked and this is an opportunity for the NHS to be more pro-active.”

An example of where this approach is already working is at Locala Community Partnerships in west Yorkshire.

Dell has recently signed a contract to provide a new service that will deliver critical clinical and administrative information at the point of care through an advanced cloud-based infrastructure.

The hybrid model will provide staff with secure access to all relevant information systems, applications and data wherever they are - seamlessly, instantly and securely.

There are no reports to date of encrypted data held in the cloud being hacked and this is an opportunity for the NHS to be more pro-active

Based on a Dell cloud solution that is hosted in a secure Dell data centre in Slough, the new service will connect staff with all their required clinical applications as well as the NHS N3 network, Microsoft Office 365 and Microsoft Lync. Via the internet, staff will be able to access all relevant patient information, corporate systems and unified communications tools ensuring a more-efficient, agile workforce. It will also allow clinical users remote access via a Dell SonicWALL Clean VPN Solution to patient information and ensure that records are accessed and updated at the point of care.

“We were one of the first healthcare organisations in the country to move to agile working, enabling our staff to provide first-class care more efficiently,” said Robert Flack, chief executive at Locala Community Partnerships.

We recognised that to move forwards, we need a much better support system including improved information storage and sharing among colleagues. Moving to a cloud-based infrastructure is the next step and will offer much more unified and reliable access to patient information at the point of care.”

If these issues are addressed similarly elsewhere, Dr Litt claims the NHS could succeed in its drive to make better use of digital technology.

“To say that, with the right help and support, we could manage it in a year may be slightly aggressive, but certainly if trusts seek the right help a two-year timescale would be a sensible suggestion. It should be within the realm of any organisation.”

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