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Can Technology Pick Up the Slack Left By Staff Shortages in the NHS?

12th March 2020

The NHS continues to be one of the most important facets of modern UK society. Nations across the world look to our healthcare in awe. How are we able to care for each and every one of our citizens’ health without them having to pay a penny? Compared to systems such as those in the US, where you have to pay for everything from cardiovascular care to giving birth, it’s safe to say that the British model is a glowing standard.

However, the NHS still has its challenges. Experts – as well as those being treated by the service – know that there is an immense shortage of staff. The reasons for this are varied and have been discussed in our previous blog. The service is in need of funding and investment.

One of the most exciting changes set to transform the NHS is digital transformation. Technology has huge potential to solve many of the issues being faced. Here we look at how tech can help address one of the more difficult challenges – staff recruitment and retention.

The NHS Long Term Plan and Technology – Why It’s Happening

In 2019, a document referred to as the NHS Long Term Plan laid out exactly where the government intends the NHS to improve over the next decade. Specifically, government advice focused on rolling out a ‘digital first’ approach. This is a vision of a new way to access healthcare. Not all conditions require a medical appointment and not all appointments have to be face-to-face for example.

The Long Term Plan intends to drive an extra £20 billion into the NHS over the next six to seven years. However, to access this funding, the government requires the NHS to meet targets. These targets are designed to drive greater patient care & experience and greater cost efficiencies in delivering that care.

Digitalisation of the NHS services is central to the Long Term Plan as only when the right technological architecture is in place can measures like remote access and video-link appointments start rolling out. It is not the patients that are holding this process up as most of them are already sufficiently resourced by owning a smartphone. The blockage is on the side of the NHS.

Prevention and Autonomy

One of the clear ways the government wants to help push for efficiency is to give greater autonomy and power to the patients – shared responsibility for health. In the same way that many businesses offer self-care options to their customers, the NHS could use technology to do the same thing with healthcare.

Examples include increasing the availability and accessibility of patient portals. This allows remote, on-demand access to one’s own medical record preventing the need to draw upon a surgery’s clerical resource.

Likewise, for the ordering of repeat prescriptions. It is already evident that digitalisation across the NHS is helping to lower stress levels and improve patient satisfaction. The Electronic Prescription Service, for example, has helped to cut down on the number of repeat prescriptions being delivered in person. Statistics show that 67% of prescriptions delivered through EPS-enabled practices use the digital platform, rather than the direct approach. That’s an encouraging statistic and proof that the concept works.

An app for patients to access NHS medical care could also be an authoritative resource for medical advice, cutting down on appointments made for ailments not requiring the expertise of a GP and helping to prevent harm from unscrupulous advice sources on the internet.

Technology has the power to do a lot of good for the self-care health of the population and to reduce demand on the NHS.

Personalised Care

Younger patients, of course, will likely adapt to technology more quickly. Older patients, however, may be more resistant to change and innovation. If the changes are going to be effective, it may be necessary to reinvest some of the newly freed-up resources into basic education initiatives for the patients least likely to engage.

When patients are engaged with their health digitally, a whole new realm opens up. Consider how Fitbit (and other similar companies) have revolutionised fitness by keeping customers engaged. Fitness tailored to the individual user to be the preserve of personal trainers, now it is essentially open-source. Health is set to go the same way.

Access to one’s own data and prescriptions, a direct channel to a specific doctor, nurse or specialist and advice tailored specifically to the patient are all thing things that are achievable now and would represent significant cost savings and reduced demand.

The Effect on Staff

Adaptation to new technology would be required by staff too. This blog discusses why staff may be resistant to digital transformation. If these concerns can be overcome, remarkable efficiencies can be achieved and the pressure-related stress of the workplace reduced.

The domino effect is a happier workforce leading to fewer instances of staff absenteeism leading to a more evenly distributed workload leading to a more attractive place to work. The vicious circle that has gripped the NHS is halted and the process of reversing it begins.

Potential Issues

Engagement – if staff and patients refuse to embrace the transformation to digital then it will be an expensive failure. Technology can dramatically improve the NHS but it has to be done correctly and in an engaging way.

Staff focus – given the language of the NHS Long Term Plan you might think the focus should be on the patient however, it is only with effective members of staff can patient care be delivered. The biggest issue facing the NHS at the moment is staffing levels. It is also staff that would drive the uptake of digital engagement with patients. That new technology improves the working practice is crucial.

Ensuring success

The concept of a digital NHS is very exciting and at myday we are constantly reviewing new ideas and new ways that digital technology can resurge our NHS and healthcare in general. Automation and process simplification is key to promoting engagement.

If you would like to know more about myday, please contact us for information or to arrange a demonstration.



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