By James Tout on 9 June 2016
Five ways firms delivering the ‘Digital NHS’ can build recognition for what they achieve
Ever since the publication of the Five Year Forward View, health tech firms have been rising to the challenge of creating the digital architecture that will allow the NHS to transform patient care while saving the oft-quoted £22bn efficiencies needed by 2021.
Huge strides are being made. That much was readily apparent at Sitekit‘s recent Digital in Action: Enabling Sustainable Transformation event held at Microsoft’s London HQ in May 2016, which brought together the firms and organisations leading the charge.
Topics under discussion ranged from Personal Health Records (PHRs) to Sustainability and Transformation Plans (STPs) and plenty more besides.
While the optimism in the room was palpable, it was clear many shared a frustration that digital change in the NHS is proceeding too slowly and faces some significant challenges. Some practical, but some also related to perceptions about the value and necessity of digital transformation.
So how can the tech leaders attempting to drag the NHS into the digital age ensure the importance of their work gets noticed?
1. This isn’t about tech – it’s about patients
It’s easy when dealing with complex technological change to get lost in minutiae and jargon. While this might be appropriate for a conversation with the CIO, less savvy audiences need constant reminding of what the real point of digital transformation is – better patient care.
As Dr Mark Davies from Mede Analytics observed, the real point of digital is to break down the artificial silos that exist at the organisational level between primary and secondary care, mental and community health services. Silos patients themselves either don’t understand or see as a hindrance. The lack of interopable records at present is why Mrs Jones has to explain everything afresh to her GP, consultant and community nurse.
That’s the kind of real-world problem digitalisation is really going to solve.
2. Celebrate success stories
Sometimes it can seem like digitalisation is something that’s forever just over the horizon for the NHS – a magical Neverland we can’t quite grasp. In fact, there’s a multiplicity of examples of digital innovation in action right now.
Precious few of these examples find their way into the health service’s hive mind, however, making it hard for great tech tools to permeate across the 400 or so separate trusts and bodies that constitute what is still painted as a monolithic NHS.
At Sitekit’s event, for instance, Janet Lewis, Director of Operations at the Central London Community Healthcare Trust (CLCH), spoke about the Health Matters website it has developed to help young people manage their health needs up to the age of 19.
CLCH has also successfully used Sitekit’s eRedbook to keep a digital health record of 0-2 year olds and integrating this information not just with its own EHRS but also with local social care services.
These kinds of stories provide case study gold dust for the media, but all too often remain hidden from view.
3. Make it memorable
“We track cars and cattle better than children under 5,” declared Alison Golightly, a specialist child health consultsnt to NHS England as she provided one of the event’s most memorable lines.
She told the audience how NHS England’s Children’s Digital Health Strategy is set to transform our ability to monitor children’s health and wellbeing over the coming 5 years, integrating and rationalising records spread across 146 departments at present.
While not every important message can be reduced to a pithy soundbite, messaging should always aim to implant something lasting in the audience’s mind. If that includes a succinct rationale for change, even better.
4. Talk about outcomes and benefits
Loraine Foley of the Professional Record Standards Body spoke about the work her organisation is doing to achieve high quality, standardised records.
While ostensibly a rather dry topic, the benefits of good records for patient care are numerous and Lorraine’s passion for her topic came across strongly: They reduce medical errors, provide both patients and clinicians with detailed and meaningful health information and can help to move away from fragmented systems to more personalised care.
Julia Manning from 2020health, meanwhile, spoke about the need for greater connectivity in our health and care systems. Referencing a recent report by 2020 Health, she pointed out that the health and care world has much to learn from the optical sector, with eye patients already making tech-driven decisions themselves.
The real goal, she made clear, was was a greater sense of partnership between clinicians and patients, which could be achieved through integration of PHR data from smartphone apps and health trackers with the health services own electronic records.
5. ‘Spend to save’ must be a fundamental message
Kathy Mason from techUK‘s presentation bluntly called for those in control of the purse strings to ‘Show me the money’.
While £4.2bn has been allocated for digital transformation up to 2021, that’s only around 20pc of what the NHS will spend on tech overall and much of the figure has already been allocated for specific projects. So much of what’s needed will need to come from efficiencies made across the system.
What’s essential is a clear articulation of the ‘spend to save’ message implicit in digital change programmes. For early stage projects this can be hard to demonstrate, but firms need to be aware of the importance of quantifying their usefulness in monetary terms and ensure they’re tracking this from Day 1.