NHS Digital Transformation; why is it happening?10th September 2019
The NHS Long Term Plan is the new name for the NHS 10-year plan. It was published in January 2019 and it sets out key targets, expectations and ambitions for healthcare over the next decade. The plan is essentially a roadmap to a future where healthcare is tailored for the individual with priority given to patient experience and outcomes.
There is a frank acknowledgement of the challenges currently being faced by the service – reduced growth in funding, staff shortages and increasing demand in key areas are all factors addressed. The plan seeks to meet and exceed government targets in order to gain access to an additional £20bn of funding over a 7 year period for hospitals in England. This extra money is locked until changes are made and government targets met.
A central tenet of the plan and a theme running throughout is digitisation. The NHS has always been at the forefront of medical technology but has lagged behind other medical institutes and private business in terms of office software and the underpinning administration. This has been the case for many years. Online services, patient access and the overall user experience of patients all fall below reasonable expectations. With only a few isolated exceptions where excellence is demonstrated, patient experience overall within the NHS is poor.
Inefficiencies at a clerical level can permeate every other aspect of care and negatively affect patient experience and outcomes long before a doctor is seen. When technology frequently fails, software encounters incompatibility issues and cybersecurity is something of an afterthought then inefficiency becomes the norm.
The Department for Health and Social Care stated in a policy paper published in October 2018 that: “Just being able to make the best use of mainstream products and services would transform health and social care in this country.” The statement succinctly illustrates the current state of Healthcare IT and how even a modest investment could be used to great effect. “But the gap between where we are and where we want to be is only getting bigger.”
Merely catching up with 2019 software and technology only to become static again for the next 5-10years is not a solution, it is just a delaying tactic. This would result in the same problem down the line when any number of new variables could complicate the situation in ways we cannot calculate. The only real solution is to future-proof through digitisation – this is acknowledged and accepted by the government and that is why such emphasis is used and why incentives are being offered.
The NHS Long Term Plan places a high level of importance on digital transformation. With the right technology in place, the administration will be seamless and efficient. Other targets set out in the plan are also expected to be achieved through technology. Areas such as :
- Shared responsibility for health
- Population health
- Health inequalities
NHS Digital, or NHSX as it has been styled, is the leading entity for digital services in UK Healthcare – Digital Services means patients being able to access their own records, make GP appointments and, where appropriate, have their GP appointments all remotely using modern technology and digital tools.
The aim of the services is not only to be functional but be supportive and empowering. Helping people to take more interest and responsibility for their own health and wellbeing is a key consideration as more involvement in their own health has been shown to improve patient outcomes significantly.
The most effective treatment of a patient occurs when the care they are provided with is personalised to them. It makes perfect sense but it is not always possible to supply tailored healthcare to each individual. Growing populations, staff shortages and restricted budgets just do not allow the resources to provide patient-centric care in any real sense.
The bitter pill, of course, is that if tailored care were to be provided at the outset, the likelihood of that same patient needing to draw upon further services would decrease, reducing the overall demand on staff and budgets. Here we see a vicious circle that needs to be broken – the digital strategy seeks to enable person-centred care through technology making previously unobtainable levels of individualised treatment widely available.
The digital transformation strategy of the NHS Long Term Plan is rooted in a desire to improve the patient experience and their outcomes, but there is also a sound business case to be made for the increased use of digital technologies to enable greater efficiencies.
You may also want to read Business Case for Digitisation in Healthcare for more details on the potential ROI of going digital.
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