We discussed the formation of Integrated Care Systems (ICSs) last year, exploring when, where and how the changes were expected to take place.
Six months down the line, we are revisiting the topic to understand what progress has been made, particularly in terms of digitisation.
Why were Integrated Care Systems introduced?
Ultimately, ICSs were established to support the health and wellbeing of the whole population and help reduce health inequalities. ICSs allow local authorities to focus on their community priorities, so they can effectively support access and implementation for their particular demographic.
By bringing primary, secondary and social care - as well as community and housing services - together, healthcare bodies and local governments can work collectively to create a more aligned health and social care system.
As part of the change, 106 Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) in England were replaced by 42 ICBs in July. This meant that on average 2 - 3 CCGs were formed into a single Integrated Care Board (ICB) for a given geographical territory.
What digital challenges have Integrated Care Systems faced?
Since their inception, ICBs have needed to understand and tackle the different levels of digital maturity across the organisations they oversee in order to fund them. This has not only taken time and effort to map out but has also meant that ICBs have had to decide what their priorities are and where they need to resource first. For instance, are they able to focus on developing their less digitality mature areas without the risk of neglecting their other organisations?
Although this is maybe a challenging task, it is necessary. If standards are expected to be consistent throughout all parts of the care system, levels of digital maturity need to be of a more equal standard across all organisations.
ICBs will have certainly discovered variations in both the type and the level of technology or software across the organisations they now oversee. When IT systems are diverse in nature, it is challenging to fully integrate them and in turn can affect performance.
Therefore, it’s understandable that ICBs may have experienced challenges around tackling interoperability, yet it is essential for integrating care. Ensuring technology within local organisations can work together means that healthcare bodies and local authorities can enhance patient experience, reduce data silos and improve productivity as information can be seamlessly exchanged.
What opportunities does digital transformation bring to Integrated Care Systems?
Software solutions that are designed to work together - for instance, so primary care data can be shared with secondary care and vice versa – means that different organisations can collaborate and share data quickly, easily and securely.
With enhanced interoperability, healthcare professionals are better able to access, view and update care records that are being transferred between sectors – keeping each other informed with real-time information and supporting patients throughout their care journey.
When organisations benefit from improved communication, it means that decisions can be made together, and action can be taken quicker. And with these speedier processes, more outcomes can be delivered, whether for the health of the population or to address needs within the local authority.
We recognise that health and social care services are experiencing increasingly high demand. Enhanced productivity via streamlined or automated processes is one essential step to meeting the growing needs and expectations of the population.
When healthcare professionals have access to comprehensive care records, they can make clinical decisions with more confidence and provide much needed care swiftly. But if a GP is still awaiting x-ray results to be posted by the radiology department of the local hospital, they can’t progress the patient’s case onto the next stage, such as a course of treatment, a prescription or an additional referral.
Digital tools help to make this data integrated and standardised. Health care records are then easily obtainable to be quickly shared between health professionals, allowing for broader visibility and faster care delivery in line with NHS security standards.
Continuity of Care
Digital transformation of health and social care included the need to ‘implement a shared care record that allows information to follow the patient and flow across the ICS to ensure that clinical and care decisions are made with the fullest of information’.
Ensuring service wide integration means that no matter when or where someone is coming into contact with the health or social care system, continuity of care is better accommodated.
No longer will patients need to endlessly repeat their medical history to each health professional they see, because all their care data can be shared and viewed by those who need it. Health professionals will have the right tools and information at hand, being better able to work together to achieve a common goal.
ICSs were formed during one of the most turbulent periods in NHS history. As a result, ICBs have had to contend with staff shortages, backlogs and unprecedented levels of patient demand. It will be interesting to see the direction and scope of the ICSs health and social care plans when they are published in 2023.
Without digital transformation, ICSs won’t be able to achieve a truly integrated health and social care system, so this is an opportune time to discover our solutions. We provide numerous tools for professionals in social, community and health care to help them provide seamless care to both service users and patients.
Find out about how you can benefit from our health and social care solutions.