Recently, the UK Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock, pointed out the NHS could save lives, staff time and £8 million in paper costs annually by using email to communicate with patients. Although it's clear there are huge advantages to going digital, wider use of email only touches the surface when it comes to the range of technology and processes which can be implemented to create a more efficient healthcare sector.
In particular, workflow processes and the digitisation of both patient or primary and secondary healthcare practitioner records can have huge benefits, saving precious time and money for the NHS. However, it’s the implementation of this at a more localised level which can transform the health and care system for good. Indeed, a study that we undertook in partnership with Oxford Economics found that with investment in the right technology and processes, as well as people and workspace, the UK’s healthcare sector could increase its GDP by £8.8 billion.
Key benefits to going digital
This has a direct impact on the quality of care which a patient receives. The time taken to access patient information is far quicker. A traditional approach means retrieving this could take anywhere between four and twenty-four hours, depending on whether a patient record library is onsite, or whether it is with an external third-party storage provider. With a digitised workflow process in place, however, search results for certain records can be delivered on screen within a matter of seconds. If all a patient’s medical records are combined in a digital format, all information at the point of care, such as any related or past conditions, is readily available for a clinician, improving diagnosis rates and ultimately improving patient outcomes.
Potential cost savings are hard to ignore. Scanning and uploading documents can reduce the need for storage space, and rooms within GP surgeries or hospitals once filled with dusty boxes could take on a new lease of life for patient care. When it comes to privacy considerations and complying with GDPR, digital records are much safer than if they were in physical format – removing human intervention mitigates the risk of a data breach caused by misplaced or misfiled documents.
One size doesn’t fit all
While there are huge advantages to going digital, technology must be implemented with the right process in place. While the National Programme for IT (NPFIT) was designed to make patient data accessible across the country, this was abandoned over a decade ago after they realised technical challenges far outweighed the cost. So, what should we bear in mind to prevent this from happening again?
Even now, one hospital, even part of a hospital, will run on multiple systems which all need to be accessed in order to retrieve clinical data. And, as the NHS continues to restructure as foundation trusts merge with NHS trusts, there’s an overlay of different systems in place. In other words, it’s impossible to have a one size fits all approach.
That’s why localised solutions at an individual hospital, or at regional NHS trust level, are much easier to implement, and ultimately far more effective. As trusts merge together, there’s greater engagement and sharing of successes between them. On a trust by trust basis, robotics and AI technology can be tailored to their particular needs and implemented to grab information from different systems and centralise this into one database.
As we look to the future, changes in technical infrastructure and the way the NHS is run will be significant. While a localised approach is crucial, there isn’t one silver bullet solution to successful digital transformation. This also depends on the clinicians and staff who carry out this change on a daily basis, and those who are more experienced in older ways may be, at first, more reluctant to embrace the digital format. Health organisations must put people first when it comes to implementing new processes, ensuring everyone understands how to utilise technology, and the importance of this.
Through this holistic approach, there is huge potential for the healthcare sector to streamline its processes, building a world-class digital service which saves time, money and ultimately, improves patient care and outcomes.