Comment: Digital transformation for a connected healthcare service

Steve Brain of Civica explores the current state of NHS digital maturity and how trusts can build the right incremental plan in order to achieve NHSX’s transformation goals

The NHS is on a mission to adopt digital ways of working

The Government’s new joint organisation for digital, data and technology, NHSX, has been created to give NHS employees and patients access to the cutting-edge technology they need - bringing teams from the Department of Health and Social Care, NHS England and NHS Improvement together in one unit to drive digital transformation.

These interoperable NHS systems will benefit clinicians and employees by allowing access to the most-current information which, in turn, will transform the patient experience by delivering a truly-joined-up healthcare service.

Front of mind for NHS trust leaders is the need to retain and attract a strong workforce, while improving patient care and keeping a tight grip on costs.

Front of mind for NHS trust leaders is the need to retain and attract a strong workforce, while improving patient care and keeping a tight grip on costs

It’s all about having the right tools in place to deliver the best care possible.

While process digitalisation is essential for an NHS facing huge resourcing and financial challenges; the level of change involved is significant, especially when we consider the imbalance that currently exists among NHS organisations in terms of having suitable IT foundations already in place.

Some are, no doubt, in a better place than others with regards to technology maturity, and legacy systems and culture must be factored in on the transformation journey.

With the right tools, mind-set, and vision in place, you can address the hurdles and challenges right from the start.

Moving forward

Organisations need to determine their digital maturity to build the right incremental plan, delivering their transformation agenda with phased value-led outcomes.

And, with information sharing across departments, key to enable this ‘joined-up’ approach, it is essential that organisations can share data across departments, trusts, and county lines.

Opening up data silos is a crucial first step, with cloud-based technology providing the ideal foundation.

Once information is flowing across trusts and departments more freely; organisations will have a clearer view of where support is needed, creating improved efficiencies and boosting productivity.

Without open, interoperable systems which talk to each other, organisations are running a multitude of different systems. This is not only expensive, but could put patient safety at risk as clinicians treat patients without knowing their full history.

Steve Brain

Where next?

Increasing efficiency means eradicating a reliance on paper, particularly in terms of patient experience and safety.

Getting rid of paper will result in huge savings that can be reinvested in digital technologies, such as electronic prescribing and medicine management.

Once information is flowing across trusts and departments more freely; organisations will have a clearer view of where support is needed, creating improved efficiencies and boosting productivity

This shift in thinking also applies to the huge volumes of paper being stored in warehouses, and the costs associated with its transportation to and from NHS locations.

There should also be a digital agenda in place, with organisations going beyond core systems and digital health prescribing to understand and facilitate what’s top of mind for management: namely workforce productivity, cost management and patient experience.

Transforming workforce productivity is all about being able to do more with the available workforce by addressing any gaps while attracting new talent.

More than one in 12 posts are vacant in hospital and community services, so existing employees need to be equipped with digital tools so they can work more effectively and deliver patient care more efficiently.

What’s holding healthcare organisations back?

While some may be risk averse following past healthcare IT programmes; this can be overcome in several ways.

The first is ensuring a strong clinical leadership, bringing a CCIO onto the board, and making sure the digital transformation agenda is led from the top down.

Digital transformation is so much more than an IT project, and while a leader on the board is crucial to drive the project; the whole organisation must be bought into the new data-driven culture to truly reap the benefits and see tangible results.

Digital transformation is so much more than an IT project, and while a leader on the board is crucial to drive the project; the whole organisation must be bought into the new data-driven culture to truly reap the benefits and see tangible results

Crucially, trusts need to choose their technology suppliers carefully, ensuring they are partners first and foremost who share their philosophy and actively participate in the journey.

Only through starting – or continuing on – a digital journey, and improving interoperability as the NHSX intends, will healthcare organisations across the country be able to deliver real-time access to critical information at the point of care.

We must all work together to make the NHSX initiative a success to allow patients and NHS employees to benefit from the latest digital systems and technology.

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