Any roadmap for introducing new technology to the NHS has to focus on delivering on what is realistic, achievable and beneficial – even if that means going a bit slower than is ideal, writes Shane Tickell
There is no doubting that everyone involved in healthcare – from politicians to patients, clinicians to commissioners – has the same goal: better, safer care delivered by a sustainable, efficient and reliable health service.
The debate within the industry is normally around how we meet this objective while managing complex chronic diseases, an ageing population and dwindling budgets. Although there is some way to go to get NHS-wide buy-in, technology is being more frequently cited as a vehicle to support these challenges.
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Clinicians are becoming more engaged in IT, technology is becoming more affordable and whole raft of new systems are available to address the challenges of the modern NHS. Greater incentives from central organisations have been put in place to support technology development resulting in good progress for using technology to improve patient outcomes.
Already we are seeing pockets of great achievement across health and social care settings, many are progressing their paperless journey and are sharing information across organisational boundaries.
The fundamentals are already in place across numerous organisations; for example, order communications systems are allowing us to send and retrieve diagnostic tests more efficiently, electronic discharge software is streamlining communication between hospitals, and GPs and electronic patient records mean that patient information is available anytime, anywhere, supporting more informed clinical decisions.
However, in many areas this success seems to be creating an appetite for a level of IT that the NHS is not yet ready for. Suppliers are being asked to provide a roadmap for systems that deliver advanced clinical decision support capabilities and integration of genomic maps, but in reality very few providers are in a position to adopt this in the near future.
Right time, right pace
To prevent IT implementations within the NHS from becoming impractical and delayed, it is key that the right technology is adopted at the right time in accordance with a roadmap that is established between both supplier and end user.
‘Engaging at all levels allows suppliers to understand exactly what healthcare professionals need to deliver better, safer patient care’
Too often we hear healthcare being compared with other industries, such as finance. One of the major successes is online banking, which was introduced in early 1990s. This service was not popular straightaway – consumers needed to adopt the technology to use it and overcome security concerns.
It was only when major brands such as eBay and Amazon built trust online that internet banking went mainstream. This success was developed over time, as consumers became more engaged with the concept of using the internet for personal banking.
Engagement is key to adopting new technology within healthcare as well – strong, focused clinical leadership across an organisation with staff that are prepared to embrace and integrate IT into their day to day routines is crucial. Engaging at all levels allows suppliers to understand exactly what healthcare professionals need to deliver better, safer patient care and to not deliver unnecessary extras that sound like a good idea, but that will actually create extra levels of complexity, effort, and cost.
As suppliers we might receive significant demands for vast technology enhancements from potential buyers, but we first need to ensure users are able to deliver the basics really well. For example, we have implemented many life saving systems over the recent years yet in some cases we are still seeing clinical information recorded on inappropriate paper, such as paper towels.
‘If delivered correctly, roadmaps play an important part of introducing and implementing new technology into healthcare at the right pace’
NHS England’s chief technology officer, Paul Rice, recently told an audience at the King Fund’s International Digital Congress about how his wife’s patient information had been recorded like this – something I have seen happen in a completely different part of the country. We still have a long way to go to make the IT systems easy enough and available enough to prevent clinical risks like this.
That is the reason for road mapping. If delivered correctly, roadmaps play an important part of introducing and implementing new technology into healthcare at the right pace. While progress and ambition in healthcare technology is refreshing, it is important that as an industry we remain focused on delivering on what is realistic, achievable and beneficial.
While we as an industry strive for world class standards, we are continuously learning along the way. Any roadmap should be a sensible development of technology to meet the needs of healthcare providers, but only when they are ready for it.
Shane Tickell is chief executive at IMS MAXIMS