Itís time to digitally transform the NHS back office

Graham Bennett, healthcare director at Insource, looks at the real implications of the NHS digital transformation

Following the Health and Care Innovation Expo in Manchester in September, at which Jeremy Hunt put digital-led NHS treatment at the centre of his pledges; questions are being asked around the level of need to implement real digital transformation in healthcare, what the challenges are, and what the cost implications are of putting innovative systems in place. Hereís Graham Bennett, healthcare director at Insource, provides the answers to these questions

Graham Bennett

The NHS is continually being asked to do more with less; operating on ever-tightening budgets and with dwindling resources, as well as facing an unprecedented level of demand from a growing, ageing population with increasing chronic health problems.

The NHS is also currently undergoing a digital transformation, delivering world-class, innovative results in terms of clinical care procedures.

There appears to be little value placed on innovating back-office functions which, of course, support everything that happens at the frontline

Surgeons at Alder Hey, for example, are using virtual reality to explore the hearts of young patients in advance of critical operations.

And patients at Salford Royal NHS Foundation Trust are being issued with wearable devices which upload clinical, biometric and lifestyle data to their medical records.

Despite being at the forefront of digital innovation in delivering clinical care, however, the NHS is arguably in a very early stage of transformation when it comes to structuring or running a business.

There appears to be little value placed on innovating back-office functions which, of course, support everything that happens at the frontline.

Consider the recent disastrous experience of Ryanair, which made the headlines for making a financial loss and ruining many holidays as a result of basing its pilot scheduling on Excel spreadsheets.

With peopleís health at stake, how can the NHS justify using spreadsheets to manage patient journeys, for example?

A sense of fear and misunderstanding, coupled with a reticence to upset the status quo means bringing about change in the NHS is no small feat

A large part of the manual work that takes place in the back offices of the NHS is simply out of step with todayís business world.

Thereís a real need for processes, practices and technology to be automated to enable greater sustainability to be delivered throughout the healthcare ecosystem.

Put simply, itís time for the NHS to embrace a digital transformation in order to modernise its day-to-day functions.

A sense of fear and misunderstanding, coupled with a reticence to upset the status quo means bringing about change in the NHS is no small feat.

Further barriers to change arise as a result of a culture of investing in short term, tactical fixes rather than thinking strategically and investing for the future.

Due to their autonomy, and a tendency to perceive themselves as unique, there is a belief within NHS trusts that no single technology or solution is able to meet their individual needs. Instead, they will typically do what they can with their own internal resources.

By doing so, there is a risk of issues recurring whereas, by addressing the root cause of a problem, trusts could aim for prevention rather than cure.

The NHS needs to invest more in its workforce, training and support, providing them with the technologies and skills they need to improve their efficiency and, ultimately, the patient experience.

Digital automation would appear to be a more logical and financially sustainable alternative to the traditional approach of increasing headcount to address an issue. But, for it to succeed, the NHS must embrace working with third-party suppliers in the private sector who have greater experience in delivering robust digital technology solutions.

A large part of the manual work that takes place in the back offices of the NHS is simply out of step with todayís business world

Transformation will never happen at the pace required and, with trusts and providers believing themselves and their requirements to be unique, the road to consistent, nationwide change will be a long one. Itís a necessary journey, however, if the NHS hopes to improve efficiencies and sustainability for the benefit of its clinical staff, executives, administrators, and its patients.

Digital transformation in the NHS, as in many other businesses, is underpinned by the intelligent use of data.

One of the healthcare industryís most-precious resources, data is also one of its most-valuable assets, and automating its management will be fundamental to driving through transformational change in the NHS.

Joined-up, standardised data flows across each element of healthcare and social services will result in a holistic strategy for change and will underpin the establishment of the best care for each individual citizen.

One of the healthcare industryís most-precious resources, data is also one of its most-valuable assets, and automating its management will be fundamental to driving through transformational change in the NHS

Digital transformation is already delivering exemplary clinical care.

Transforming the health serviceís back office in the same way will ensure UK citizens are confident in the knowledge that theyíre receiving the highest-possible standard of care, regardless of their condition.

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