IT procurement 'sub optimal', 'biased' and 'painstakingly slow'

Read how the Government plans to address problems with clinical buy-in and procurement

The future success of healthcare IT solutions in driving financial efficiencies and improvements to NHS care will centre on winning the support of sceptical clinicians and improving ‘sub-optimal’ procurement processes, it has been claimed.

In September Whitehall chiefs announced the launch of a new partnership between the Department of Health’s Informatics Directorate (DHID) and private sector technology collective, Intellect. The aim was to draw up a plan of action for creating a ‘vibrant healthcare IT market in the UK’.

Both Intellect and DHID see significant unrealised potential to harness the benefits of IT and informatics to improve care. However, this can only be realised via a pull from the business and clinical management of the NHS, and not with a technical push from the IT and informatics community

A draft document was published in November, prompting a wealth of feedback, both from health organisations and IT suppliers. As a result, a formal outline of the objectives has now been circulated, and it puts more pressure on clinical staff to support and embrace technology.

It states: “Both Intellect and DHID see significant unrealised potential to harness the benefits of IT and informatics to improve care. However, this can only be realised via a pull from the business and clinical management of the NHS, and not with a technical push from the IT and informatics community.”

We recognise that NHS management and health and care professionals need help to develop sufficient confidence in the benefits of IT solutions to be able to invest in them safely and wisely

It continues: “We recognise that NHS management and health and care professionals need help to develop sufficient confidence in the benefits of IT solutions to be able to invest in them safely and wisely such that they deliver true and lasting business benefit. A key issue here to overcome is how we, as the informatics and IT community, can effectively demonstrate the benefit of not only our solutions, but our profession also.

“We will, therefore, develop a joint initiative to engage with these communities to better equip them to be able to become confident, better and informed clients of the information and technology solutions that the NHS informatics and supplier communities jointly deliver to them.”

But this drive to convince NHS staff of the benefits may be a tough challenge, with a recent Accenture survey revealing that only 61% of doctors in the UK recognise the benefits of healthcare IT. It also showed that 71% felt ‘connected care’ would result in better access to quality data for clinical research, 52% thought it reduced unnecessary interventions, 65% felt it reduced medical errors, and 55% thought it increased speed . This means that up to half of clinicians continue to have some doubts over the impact technology will have on working practices and the patient experience.

In particular, the research concludes that doctors under the age of 50 are more likely to believe in the positive impact of healthcare IT. Just 65% of those over the age of 50 agreed.

The objective is to foster the right conditions to enable a healthy and vibrant healthcare IT market within England for the benefit of patients and the public, as well as the NHS and adult social care staff who care for them

And it seems some nursing staff are also hesitant. During a recent webcast led by Susan Hamer, director for nursing, midwifery and allied health professionals at the DHID, one listener said: “I am not sure IT innovation is for nurses. All the talk is that we should be about hands-on care. Can sitting in front of a computer screen really help with that?”

Another sceptic added: “I have tried to engage nurses in IT and frequently hit a brick wall in that ward-based nurses seem not to understand that IT can help and not hinder nurses.”

But not everyone is against change. A participant said: “We have just helped implement an on-ward system for nurses and the response and take-up was tremendous. Four key enablers were that the computer tablet solution was highly relevant to patient care and fitted in with ward practice.”

Following publication of the follow-up proposal, workstreams will be formed to identify better models of information flow and to establish new standards, requirements and accreditation of systems. In addition, these teams will look at much-needed improvements to the ‘sub-optimal’ procurement processes currently used by NHS organisations.

A key issue here to overcome is how we, as the informatics and IT community, can effectively demonstrate the benefit of not only our solutions, but our profession also

There are also plans to build an evidence base of information and technology programmes to support an evaluation framework. The idea of all these measures is to provide a much more streamlined process for technology procurement and deployment.

The joint plan states: “The objective is to foster the right conditions to enable a healthy and vibrant healthcare IT market within England for the benefit of patients and the public, as well as the NHS and adult social care staff who care for them.”

The workstreams are currently exploring these topics and details of their recommendations are expected in May. Further details on the initiatives outlined in the report will be available in March and it is expected they could go some way towards informing the Government’s delayed Information Strategy, which looks at wider public sector use of IT and informatics.

For too long suppliers have been left out in the cold and this has led to stifling of innovative NHS IT over the past 10 years

A spokesman for healthcare software supplier, IMS MAXIMS, said the measures would hopefully open up new opportunities for providers and improve the convoluted procurement processes currently associated with the NHS. He added: “For too long suppliers have been left out in the cold and this has led to stifling of innovative NHS IT over the past 10 years. We view this as an initial plan of work and fully support the first joint initiatives to improve information sharing for the benefit of patients, interoperability standards for the benefit of the NHS, and the painstakingly slow and laborious procurement process that is often biased against innovative SMEs.”

The need for improvements in procurement processes was supported in a statement from the industry collective, One Health Alliance. It said: “The workstream around procurement is particularly crucial. Many SMEs have been shut out of the market for too long due to procurement being an arduous, tick-box process and in many ways this has resulted in a lack of innovation and flexibility within the industry and the NHS.”

But he warned the planned focus on NHS clinicians and not on the supply side could scupper it success, adding: “It is essential that suppliers of all sizes are involved in this process and that whatever final plan is put together its objectives and aims are evaluated and measured.” To see the updated plan, click here

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