At our annual NHS summit this year, we looked at the challenges facing chief information officers and clinicians in delivering Lord Darzi's vision for the NHS.

Speakers included NHS South Central director of strategy and reform Chris Evenett, Matthew Swindells of Tribal Health, and NHS London chief information officer Kevin Jarrold. Each gave their own perspectives on the technology challenges for the year ahead.

Four key themes emerged throughout the day:

  • transformation is about people, not systems;

  • we need innovation to flow through the NHS at a faster pace;

  • board-level IT champions must drive this change;

  • technology really can transform patient care, and we are seeing examples of this in the NHS today.

As Lord Darzi made clear in his next stage review, patients must be at the heart of transforming the NHS. IT has a key role to play in delivering this vision, which is why it is so important that when we design new systems and solutions, we look first at the people and processes they need to support. The only way to gain this understanding is through greater dialogue with clinical staff and patients.

Meeting needs

Continuing on this theme, Chris Evenett spoke of the "information challenge" and the need to understand what patients' needs are before services are planned. He spoke of understanding and using outcomes and being able to commission for individuals. Systems are not yet in place to enable this level of knowledge and understanding, but the technology is out there.

This brings us to the topic of innovation. We all agree that the NHS has made some real achievements in its 60 years - but is it responsive enough to drive the level of innovation needed under the next stage review?

Matthew Swindells spoke of the slow innovation adoption in the NHS today. The lag between new knowledge being discovered and 50 percent of physicians acting on that knowledge is 15-17 years. While uptake might be slow, we must remember the NHS is an incredibly complex organisation, and there are some impressive examples of where IT is driving real improvements in care.

Leadership

And this is where leadership comes in. Leadership is key to driving through any technological change in the NHS. Does IT have a champion at board level? In most strategic health authorities, this is not the case. Chief information officers must feel empowered to step up to this challenge and demonstrate the real value IT can deliver if it is truly embedded in the service.

When IT is embedded in the delivery of healthcare, great things can happen. Wandsworth primary care trust associate director of public health Laurence Gibson showcased the work that had been achieved at his trust in relation to MMR vaccinations.

Wandsworth, like all PCTs, must assess the levels of immunisation in the local community, which includes identifying vulnerable groups and protecting them. The issue faced by Wandsworth was that the information they were using to assess these levels was inaccurate. The team at Wandsworth worked with 21c information management to develop configuration and reporting systems that provide them with real-time data, which means the immunisation team now has a clear understanding of where those vulnerable groups really are, and can act accordingly. With MMR a growing concern in the UK today, solutions like these can have a major impact on community health.

While we all acknowledge there are challenges ahead, what was clear throughout the day was that everyone sees the opportunity for technology to deliver better care for patients. If clinicians had access to real-time, in-depth data to inform their decision-making, patients would benefit from services that are better matched to their needs.

As Mr Evenett concluded: "We must recognise we are in the information business if we are to deliver personalised care in partnership with people."

For more information, go to www.microsoft.com/uk/nhs/content/events