NHSX marks the spot for health and care interoperability

Published 2/21/2019 by Dr Alex Yeates, Medical Director

This week, the government announced the creation of NHSX – a joint unit to bring the benefits of modern technology to every patient and clinician in the UK. A range of responsibilities has been set out, which are listed here, but one of the most promising is the join up of health and care.

NHSX’s role will be to ensure that NHS systems can talk to each other across the vast number of health and care systems. Once patients no longer require hospital care, for example, being at home or in a community setting is the best place to continue recovery. However, unnecessary delays in discharging older patients from hospital is a systemic problem that is on the rise.

New research from technology-enabled home care start-up Cera Care found that 3,338 hospital beds across NHS trusts in the UK were blocked in 2018 because patients were awaiting a care home placement or availability. This was the third biggest reason for bed blocking in 2018, behind ‘awaiting further non-acute NHS care’ (8,226 beds) and ‘patient or family choice’ (5,290).

This stark health and care divide could be diminished through interoperable technology which, quite frankly, is critical for ensuring the best possible patient care. IT systems that can communicate together is the only long-term sustainable method for achieving a truly connected NHS.

It will enable patients to get the best care they need – whether that be in the hospital, in the community or at home – because their data will follow them around a unified system. It will also reduce pressure on over-stretched healthcare staff, allowing them to provide care where it’s really needed. Ultimately, it will result in a reduction in the overall cost of the healthcare system.

The NHS clearly recognises this, which is why it is renewing its focus on developing, agreeing and mandating clear standards for the use of technology across all health and care settings. Granted, it won’t be an easy task but launching a new organisation with clear roles and responsibilities is a step in the right direction – and now the entire technology industry needs to get behind it.

The care provider sector is the least digitally mature so it will be looking to technology suppliers with the right industry knowledge and expertise to help it reach the goals set out in the NHS 10 Year Plan.

The NHS’ existing information standard, SCCI2075: Assessment, Discharge and Withdrawal Notices between Hospitals and Social Services , is a huge opportunity for these suppliers and one that can take the care sector out of the pre-internet age and into the digital era.

It allows discharge messaging between hospitals and care homes – something which NHS trusts are beginning to advocate. Last September, Homerton University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust and Hackney London Borough Council announced they would be building a digital platform to enable the real-time transfer of information on patients being discharged from hospital and into the care of social services. According to CBR Government, proof of concept for the technical solution and detailed design is being taken up to ensure compliance with the SCCI2075 standard.

Similar platforms are already being implemented across the wider health and care system to transfer patient data efficiently and effectively. Our Docman Connect solution, for example, is a structured messaging platform which enables clinical communication between care settings. It enables health and care providers to send and receive a variety of clinical and non-clinical documents safely and securely, including electronic discharge summaries, ensuring timely delivery with a full audit trail.

With its proven technology, Docman could easily be a transmit method between the hospital and home too. It would adhere to a set of standards for technology – created by the new NHSX – so that proper interoperability can occur. And, as long as these systems not only talk to each other but enable innovation, we really will see the NHS become the most advanced health and care service.

That, in our opinion, can only be a win-win.