What the fax? Why our NHS needs a digital shot in the arm

Published Monday, October 22, 2018 2:35 PM by Ric Thompson, Managing Director, Health & Care, Advanced

The NHS may just have celebrated a landmark birthday, and still inspires national pride, with many heralding it as ‘Britain’s best achievement’ but that’s not to say that it couldn’t be improved, with significant scope for improvement. Given the digital era in which we live, there is a growing expectation that the NHS should operate as a connected organisation, where any patient information is available, always up-to-date, and at the fingertips of the right people and the right time.

Just last week there were more reports of supposed mistakes, potentially impacting the provision of patient care due to technology lapses or lack of communication between systems. The barriers around transferring patient data between a patients’ GPs, paramedics and hospitals demonstrate that the current system needs a serious digital overhaul. Currently, our health sector operates dozens of systems that don’t all talk to each other consistently – be this in hospitals, GP surgeries, social care homes, pharmacies or community care organisations – with social care separate. Many argue that this digital disconnect is hampering doctors’ efforts to save lives and give the best possible patient care.

Sharing records of patient visits and making them available for all clinicians and venues of care would allow doctors along each part of the patient journey to better understand their patient’s medical history, and possibly even save lives.

That’s not to say there hasn’t been significant steps taken towards modernisation. Just last month at the Health and Care Expo conference in Manchester, Lord O’Shaunessy announced a new code of conduct for artificial intelligence (AI) and other data-driven technologies that will allow NHS patients to benefit from the latest innovations, and focus on protecting patient data – to bring real benefits to patients.

And Health and Social Care Secretary, Matt Hancock, championed the use of technology within the NHS, announcing details of a new £200m fund to help the organisations’ trusts to transform their IT systems. This will allow patients to book GP appointments, access the ‘111’ service, view medical records, and record organ donation preferences, in order to be more efficient, integrated and become “the most cutting-edge system in the world”. For while the culture of the NHS is that clinical trials take time, so we adopt new innovations only once robustly and repeatedly tested, there is now a new generation of technology that can be rapidly assessed and iterated to give staff the skills they need to reimagine the way they work much more quickly.

At Advanced, we strongly agree that a more integrated network of technology will help drive the best possible outcomes and services for patients. Changing demographics and rising costs of delivering effective healthcare, as well as tightening budgets, all mean it is essential for the NHS to be an organisation that has patient data at the fingertips of any medical person – be they a paramedic, GP, doctor, or consultant.

Acceleration in the implementation of digital transformation across the NHS is happening in pockets, with some great local examples of organisations coming together to link their systems. For example, East Midlands Ambulance Service (EMAS) has established a clinical hub within its Emergency Operations Centres with clinical staff trained using Advanced’s clinical decision support (CDS) software, Odyssey.

Another technology trial designed to reduce the strain is taking place in the West Midlands where they are using an app delivered by Sensely, powered by our Odyssey Decision Support technology, which provides self-care advice or suggests an appropriate next step to patients. It can arrange a call back from ‘111’ or help make a GP appointment. These projects are already allowing for much better integrated care, bookings of GP appointments and, in some cases, the ability to prescribe – all taking pressure off stretched GP and A&E services, and potentially being much more convenient and safer for patients.

In fact, the technology exists to connect multiple venues of care safely across the NHS. For example, we’re already working with NHS England with our Docman technology in operation, safely transferring electronically over one billion clinical documents every year, with three million items of patience correspondence handled every week. This is helping 40 million patients annually, saving GP practices seven hours per day. The technology is today already connecting:

  • 5,417 GP Practices
  • 115 NHS Trusts
  • 178 Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs)
  • Independent care providers

However, as with any digital transformation project, it’s not as simple as just investing in the technology to unlock efficiency gains. Investment must be made in changing the culture within the NHS to support new ways of working with technology and ensuring systems are integrated properly to ensure new workflows are created effectively.

Our National Health Service is still something to be proud of. But 70 years on, it’s time to adapt and rethink the way it operates with a digital shot in the arm. Because while it’s far too simplistic to see digital technology as the key to the future of the NHS, it is key to transforming the organisation and delivering better outcomes and services for patients.

“Technology has unleashed huge improvements in the rest of our lives. Done right, with the consent of patients, it can improve our NHS, too.”
Matt Hancock, Health and Social Care Secretary