Data access: The heartbeat of NHS trusts

Ian Hazel, associate director of ICT at Chesterfield Royal Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, gives a first-hand insight into the organisation's 'digital agenda’ and how to implement IT strategies to support each patient

The UK healthcare industry is not alone in recognising that there are still gaps that need to be filled when becoming digitally savvy.

But, for individual trusts across the wider NHS, the last few years have seen a change developing in the way healthcare providers deliver care to their patients.

One of the core areas of the digital agenda that all NHS trusts need be focusing on is making sure that the information they have supports each individual patient and is available to everyone who is involved in the patient care cycle

And, at the forefront of these new approaches, and driving this change, is the digital agenda.

For this vision to be realised, IT support, consultation, and engagement is critical.

One of the core areas of the digital agenda that all NHS trusts need be focusing on is making sure that the information they have supports each individual patient and is available to everyone who is involved in the patient care cycle. This is obviously much easier said than done. however, as many IT teams, like mine at the Chesterfield Royal Hospital, have discovered.

Since the implementation of GDPR earlier this year, NHS trusts have been required to meet the same compliance regulations as every other organisation in the EU – making sure all data is securely stored and only accessed by the right people when necessary.

But, with the financial strain and time pressure the health service is under, making the time to implement the changes required for GDPR has proved to be a struggle for many.

Adding to the complexity, the NHS has been built upon a paper-based system.

Though computers and digital technology have clearly made a huge impact since their introduction decades ago, the process to switch to a digital-first system, though well underway, is still in progress. At the same time, there are more applications and databases within the NHS than ever before.

For individual trusts, pursuing digital transformation strategies should start with solutions that can help manage the data being collected, with a focus on enabling simplification across the IT infrastructure

For individual trusts, this means that pursuing digital transformation strategies should start with solutions that can help manage the data being collected, with a focus on enabling simplification across the IT infrastructure.

This was something we experienced at Chesterfield Royal Hospital.

We had such a disparate set of back-up systems that had grown over time, and we needed a way to simplify this and manage everything through just one screen.

Working towards smarter, more-efficient methods of data management that met clinical and business priorities was vital. Crucially, we needed interoperability between our systems that could enable us to share our data across multiple departments and teams, whether clinical technicians or business-focused.

All change

The main concern of any organisation within the healthcare industry has to be their patients, their care and their wellbeing. And everything needs to be focused towards this – including the management and use of data.

With information on almost every person in the UK, the NHS holds a vast amount of sensitive and often critical personal data that needs to be available to the necessary people at a moment’s notice.

In hospitals, it isn’t an exaggeration to say the availability (or lack thereof) could be a matter of life and death – when lives are on the line, efficient data management is a must.

Implementing an overarching infrastructure that can bring everything together in one place is crucial. It provides a holistic view of each patient for medical experts across multiple departments, and sometimes even physical locations.

IT teams across the NHS – and the wider healthcare industry – should look to partner with technology companies that have the expertise required to manage the wealth of critical data that they collect, while always ensuring that data is compliant

Not only does an integrated system deliver more-accurate and up-to-date information about a patient, but it can also reduce costs and minimise workloads for IT teams, as everyone works with one single, unified data management solution.

IT teams across the NHS – and the wider healthcare industry – should look to partner with technology companies that have the expertise required to manage the wealth of critical data that they collect, while always ensuring that data is compliant.

Part of the selection process for this, however, must include taking the cost efficiency into account.

Any investments made by the NHS need to be smart, and support the initiatives of the trust, both medically and financially.

In my experience, working with a reputable channel partner and technology vendor can ensure that critical applications and databases are protected, easily accessible and recoverable across a variety of locations at the same time, maintaining levels of regulatory compliance and necessary cost effectiveness.

At Chesterfield, we have been on a journey these last few years.

At the beginning of this journey, we found ourselves with a 17-year-old legacy infrastructure, lacking standardisation and with a number of support issues. Now I’m proud to say that we have a fully-centralised service offering GDPR support, ransomware protection, and cloud integration, all thanks to working with the right partner and vendors.

With systems like we now have in place, our doctors, nurses and support staff across every function of the trust have been able to deliver a higher quality of patient care, without having to worry about the back-end IT that supports their day-to-day jobs.

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