Health Secretary Matt Hancock has placed technology at the heart of his vision for the future of the NHS. Innovative technology can address many of the key challenges the NHS faces, such as budgeting, operational efficiency and patient waiting times, to name just three.
A 2018 study from Alfresco and Dimensional Research finds that more than one in five (22%) IT decision makers in the UK and US believe that the healthcare sector will be the sector most likely to be negatively impacted by failing to digitally transform in 2018. Nearly a quarter (24%) believe that healthcare is the sector most likely to be improved by digital transformation, behind the retail and banking sectors.
Artificial Intelligence (AI), machine learning, cloud computing and digitalisation of processes are three of the most prominent tenets of digital transformation that will drive the UK health sector forward in the coming years.
Artificial Intelligence comes to the fore
Like Prime Minister Theresa May, Hancock is a believer in the potential of Artificial Intelligence. “Artificial Intelligence can help spot the early stages of cancer, giving patients a better chance of survival,” he writes.
AI will be able to mine a wider range of data sets from which to learn, spot trends, and flag potential anomalies at a patient and societal level. The deployment of AI within healthcare can go far beyond diagnosis and right into the core of administration, supporting clinical decision-making and even streamlining the research process.
Healthcare in the cloud
It’s impossible to discuss digital transformation without mentioning the cloud, which holds so many potential benefits for healthcare providers. Operating in the cloud enables much lower operational costs as many services are shifted from on-premise to virtual locations. This also gives healthcare providers greater flexibility over document management and faster access to software-as-a-service (SaaS).
Every healthcare body’s needs are different, so organisations looking at the cloud should consider which service option is right for them, whether that’s on-premises, cloud, hybrid or managed.
Digital transformation in the NHS: A case study
In 2013, Hancock’s predecessor, Jeremy Hunt had challenged the NHS to go paperless by 2018. This was later revised to 2020, but the principle target of removing paper from the system remains a common objective across the NHS.
Digitising documents provides instant access to information regardless of location, improving efficiencies and patient care across the board while providing cost savings.
One NHS body benefit from improving efficiencies while reducing paper is Liverpool Women’s NHS Foundation Trust. It is one of only two hospitals in the UK dedicated to the care and treatment of women and their families, delivering 8,500 babies each year. It is the largest hospital of its type in Europe.
Prior to deploying an electronic form system, nurses responding to emergency telephone calls relied on completing hand-written triage forms. When the patient was advised to attend, the forms were then hand-delivered to the Emergency Room staff ahead of the patient’s arrival. This meant medical staff did not have immediate access to a patient’s treatment records and led to the potential for patients to attend unnecessary consultations. With a paper-based system, records also needed to be scanned onto the system.
The Trust moved to an Digital Business Platform . The electronic form system provides a streamlined, easy-to-use triage form tailored to the needs of the Emergency Department. Teams can retrieve past records and patients do not need to repeat sensitive information on arrival at reception.
Digitisation has already led to a dramatic decrease in the number of unnecessary admissions to the Emergency Room, easier archiving and increased staff efficiencies as forms can auto-fill fields according to saved information. Form no longer need to be hand delivered, freeing staff up to assist patients even more.
Striving for improved healthcare through technology
To succeed at digital transformation, healthcare bodies need to be clear on the objectives they want to achieve and what success looks like.
Mr Hancock is a realist. “I’ve learned working on digital transformation across the public sector that it doesn’t always go to plan and must be driven by the needs of the user,” he writes. While any digital transformation project can be challenging, it need not be daunting. The key thing is that NHS Trusts work with the right partners with a proven record in delivering on complex digital transformation projects.
Alfresco’s Digital Transformation Survey 2018 suggests that IT decision makers in the healthcare sector are confident that they can deliver. More than half (51%) reported that they expect to be more likely to be a disruptor than be disrupted by their competition.
The will is there, and the new Health Secretary is supportive. If you have yet to start your digital transformation journey, isn’t today a great time to start?