All industries have seen a rapid expansion of digital processes in the last few years and the NHS is no exception. For instance, growing demand and changing expectations of care has meant the NHS has seen over 30 million people signing up to the NHS App, 1.7 million GP appointments booked using it and more people requesting care records online.
Integrated Care Systems (ICSs) have been working towards system wide digitisation of the NHS to enhance integration, improve patient experience and reduce health inequalities.
We are looking at some of the challenges faced when incorporating technology in healthcare, what benefits digital technologies bring to the healthcare system and what to consider when looking for software.
Challenges faced when incorporating software in healthcare
Organisations across the NHS will have different levels of digital maturity as a result of varying physical and data infrastructure. Some areas may have an unreliable Wi-Fi connection or outdated systems that aren’t designed to work with newer technology.
And as ICSs cover different types of services with different digital needs, funding and resource available to each service will vary. This can mean some sectors are prioritised over others when it comes to implementing new software.
One key factor for digitisation is how well systems can work with each other. There will have been challenges experienced when choosing new technology, as current systems may not integrate with newer ones, or systems across services have not been able to share data previously.
When systems are able to integrate with each other, data can be shared quickly and securely across organisations, allowing for enhanced communication, productivity and patient experience.
Of course, new systems require new skills and training staff takes time. Some sectors may already have an existing IT team to help with implementation, but others won’t.
Software providers may offer super-user onboarding, online courses and documentation to help new users navigate the systems, as well as a dedicated Support team to troubleshoot any technical issues or queries throughout their journey.
Benefits of incorporating software in healthcare
Choosing technologies that are designed to be compatible with other NHS systems means that anyone needing to view records have real-time information when it is requested. As well as this, Cloud-based technologies allow users to store and access these records on-demand, whether at a desk or working remotely.
This immediate access means that real-time data is available without the time-consuming process of looking through masses of paperwork or data trails to find the most up to date information.
Control and Communication
Purpose built functionalities such as automated processes, artificial intelligence (AI) or customisable messaging templates can help to enhance communication between users.
Digital tools may be specifically designed to improve efficiency, helping professionals across services to work together towards a common goal. Others may be created to empower patients by giving them access to view their own records, allowing for greater control over their care.
Reduce data silos
Having a digital system to view, update and share data means that organisations can reduce the impact of potential data silos.
By digitally storing information, organisations reduce the risk of losing, damaging or destroying paper records. This allows for more information to be up-to-date and accurate than if organisations were relying on manual, paper-based processes.
Improved Audit Trail
Having a digital log of when, where, what and who has accessed, or update records helps to ensure a trail of responsibility throughout care processes.
Having a complete audit trail can, for instance, let you know where a document is during the transfer of care. This visibility lets you see if a document has been rejected and that it returns to the sender, so records don’t get lost or misplaced.
Things to consider when choosing healthcare software
1. What do you need it to do?
First, you need to decide what you need the system to do on the whole. Maybe you’re taking the first step to move away from paper-based process or you’re looking to replace existing software that is no longer meeting your needs. Either way, you need to evaluate your current circumstances.
Does the system need to help the organisation manage its transfer of care? Do you need a more secure alternative to a physical smartcard? Does the system need to be able to improve communication between a patient and their GP?
2. What problem do you need it to solve?
It is vital that you decide on the outcomes you expect from a software solution. For example, do you need to save time, reduce costs, improve patient care or achieve compliance with a new regulation?
You should then rank these outcomes in order of priority and use this as a checklist against which to assess the software solutions available in the market.
3. Who is going to be using it?
Next, you should think about who is going to use the system. For example, is it going to be patients, clinicians or administration teams? Since you know what you need the system for, you will need to understand who is going to benefit from it.
Start thinking about why a digital solution would help to mitigate specific challenges currently being faced. You may want to ask or observe what the users day-to-day is like and, therefore, determine what they are currently lacking (and could benefit from through a digital tool).
It is important to involve these stakeholders in both the scoping and decision-making process. If they are not included, you may fail to win their buy-in and technology adoption may suffer once the system is implemented.
4. Will it integrate with other technology?
With digitisation being a key factor for ICSs to improve the integration of services, you will want to consider the interoperability of technology with current or new systems across the sector. You may also what to determine whether you need a tool that is designed to be flexible to your needs.
Is the system specifically designed to accommodate NHS needs and standards? Does the system work alongside others to share data across the service? Are the functionalities you need able to be customised to your particular circumstances?
5. Where is technology moving to in the future?
Healthcare is seeing a significant shift towards forward-thinking technology. When choosing a new software solution, you will need to consider what your services will look like in the next 5 years and what future healthcare technology you may need to address it. This will help you to future-proof your systems. Does the solution utilise AI? Does it have capabilities that help reduce health inequalities? Are you needing a system that can be accessible via a mobile app?
Once you have determined what you need a digital system for and what specifically you need it to do, you can start looking into the options available to you.
With digital transformation being an important step for the future of the NHS, this is the opportune time to discover our solutions. We provide purpose built tools for healthcare professionals to seamlessly access care records and progress their patients’ care journey.