Cloud innovation is the heartbeat of frontline health services

doctors and nurses looking at Xray

Written by Steve Brain, Executive Director, Health and Care at Civica

The NHS is facing severe financial pressures, with trusts struggling to operate efficiently within budget restrictions, employee shortages across almost all disciplines, and ever-increasing demands being placed on health services. Research shows that some hospitals can no longer afford the most-modern scanners and surgical equipment to treat patients who have cancer and other diseases because of multi-billion-pound cuts to the NHS’s capital budget. For many, 77% of their IT budgets are spent simply keeping the lights on.

With less budget available for innovative lifesaving equipment, anything that demands upfront investment must show a strong business case. So, how can healthcare organisations overcome budget constraints to put forward a strong argument for future investment? And how can trusts move to a more efficient business model using new technologies?

Saving money through a cloud model 

That’s where cloud computing, with its operational expenditure model, comes to the fore. Acquiring cloud services shifts spending from upfront capital expenditure to a subscription approach, which makes investment easier to approve. This ability to flex and scale resources as required means only paying for what you need while also giving organisations the ability to scale up infrastructure during heavy load times.

Also, as the service is still owned by the provider, trusts don’t need to budget for, or to worry about updates and innovations as in many cases, they are automatic and often included as part of the subscription or software-as-a-service (SaaS) licence in the form of security or application updates.

As opposed to on-premise IT systems, the cloud enables improved data flow and visibility so that clinicians are able to access, edit and share patient records more quickly and have a 360-degree view of patient medical history. This is truly enhancing the quality, speed and efficiency of healthcare within surgeries and hospitals as well as out in the community, creating enormous benefits to patient outcomes as a result.

Here are three ways NHS trusts are already benefitting from switching to the cloud:

1. Going paperless

With hundreds of thousands of patient files, it’s no longer safe, sustainable or efficient to be relying on paper-based documents. Cloud computing underpins most Electronic Data Management Systems (EDMS), like Civica’s Cito, ensuring that clinicians have all the patient data they need in one centralised system to deliver fast, effective care. By moving to the cloud, healthcare trusts reduce the amount of paper waste, minimise the number of errors when it comes to referrals and handovers, while speeding up services to enhance patient care.

IT budget available shouldn’t only be spent on more hardware such as laptops or smartphones. While these all generate data, if the data isn’t being collated and analysed, then trusts are not getting the best return on investment. By going paperless, trusts can remove the siloes preventing them from having a holistic view of patient data and create a more standardised approach for how data can be effectively handled and analysed to drive greater patient outcomes.

2. Streamlining case management

With care providers under immense pressure to improve services, NHS trusts are increasingly working with multiple agencies and partners to help deliver this. The care delivery process can therefore pass through multiple hands from initial referral through to final treatment, and the need to centralise this process is paramount. Cloud software systems can remove the burden from providers by enabling a single view of patient information and integrating patient records and case management. This means information is not lost in translation at each step of the care delivery process.

Take Southern Health and Social Care Trust, for example, where district nurses are using iPads to take notes, record each visit and streamline the administrative aspect of community care. Thanks to Civica’s Paris software, Southern Trust nurses can now report on every patient visit while out in the community, rather than having to take notes manually and travel back to the hospital at the end of the day to write them up on the system. All case information is saved automatically as nurses report on-the-go; this both benefits nurses, by helping them manage caseloads and save time with electronic notes, and improves the accuracy of patient data which is reported at the point of care.

3. Unifying resource and cost management

Centralising patient data is just one element of improving patient outcomes. Understanding the cost of each individual clinical activity is key to identifying inefficiencies that are draining money and resources away from patient care. Through the cloud, datasets like the cost of bandages or theatre activity, can be analysed to provide insights to drive more cost-efficient financial management. Tameside and Glossop Integrated Care NHS Foundation Trust is using cloud-based cost management software to remove much of the admin its internal IT teams are facing, so they have more time to support critical frontline services. What’s more, inherent in many cloud systems is data analysis, which can be used to help NHS trusts address resourcing issues. At a time when retention and attrition of employees is proving increasingly difficult, it’s crucial that the NHS invests in systems that can proactively identify where departments are understaffed and where tasks can be automated.

As discussed in our recent cloud report, while budgets remain tight, against a backdrop of a growing and aging population, moving to the cloud allows healthcare organisations to deliver the efficiencies needed to improve healthcare provision and patient outcomes. While cloud computing certainly can’t solve all the NHS’ problems, it can help trusts save an enormous amount of money in the long term, which they can use to re-invest back into frontline care. As well as reducing costs and improving security, cloud provides a platform upon which NHS trusts can test and integrate innovative technologies, such as AI and the Internet of Things, bringing the healthcare system truly into the digital age.

Originally published here.

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