Plans for digitally transforming the NHS

Written by Ash Finnegan, Digital Transformation Officer, Conga

In March, UK health and social care secretary, Sajid Javid announced the Government’s target of having 80 percent of all care providers phase out paper-based records by 2024. According to Javid, approximately 40 percent of providers still depend on paper-based processes, which restricts the efficiency of their operations. 

Implementing digital records will be a significant step in the Governments’ broader transformation plans. However, it must be approached with caution. As Javid acknowledged, most providers are still experiencing challenges in rolling out digital records and need adequate support when it comes to implementation. Up until now, health and social care departments have been too slow in tackling legacy IT and data issues and, as reports indicate, this has impacted decision-making throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. 

 

The digital maturity of health and social care

The paperless NHS is no new concept for the UK Government, which failed to achieve its previous target of establishing a paperless NHS by 2018. However, the pandemic has highlighted the need to improve operational efficiency across the health and social care sectors. The backlog to daily services, generated by disruptions throughout the pandemic, is still an issue and NHS waiting lists are at an all-time high. Creating electronic patient record (EPR) systems will be a crucial part of delivering the Government’s digital roadmap. But whether health and social care departments have the appropriate digital maturity to undergo these changes is questionable. 

Indeed, previous attempts at digital transformation in health and social care have proven largely unsuccessful, according to an investigation conducted by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC). The investigation also highlighted that health and social care providers are still reliant on legacy IT systems and technologies that cannot easily interact with each other, creating roadblocks. Several trusts are using up to 400 different IT systems which limits the ability to scale to meet increasing demands, as well as adding unnecessary risk.

 

The benefits of digital transformation

Documents are the lifeblood of any organisation. However, operations fail to run efficiently when teams must manually create, review, track and manage those documents at every stage of the process. In a sector that’s already paperwork-heavy, care providers need a solution that enables them to spend more time on creating a patient-first experience, rather than chasing down documents and alternating between multiple IT systems. Instead, care providers can have a 360-degree view of the patient – as well as the ability to deliver truly personalised experiences – with the help of an integrated system.

Successfully removing all paper-based workflows and implementing extensive electronic patient record (EPR) systems will no doubt accelerate the Government’s digital transformation efforts. However, achieving that will not be easy. 

 

How to approach digital transformation 

Of course, digital transformation is beneficial in many ways, but that does not necessarily mean it is easy to define, plan or execute. Problems can arise when it comes to how organisations approach digital transformation in the first place. Many leaders prioritise new technology over strategy and do not have a clear understanding of the outcomes that digital transformation can and should drive. 

With the interoperability of IT systems being a major focus of the Government’s digital plan, leaders

should start by reviewing their current operational model. They need to begin by focusing on the organisation’s data layer, unifying systems of record, streamlining the data cycle and aligning systems to ensure that all data is accessible, actionable and auditable.

The next step is making sure that all documents are managed centrally and that data flows smoothly between departments. All process that are implemented to drive efficiency must benefit the wider organisation, not just one team or department. Leaders can then consider the possibility of further integration between systems, such as enterprise resource planning (ERP) or introducing automation in some way. 

By assessing the suitability of their operational model and removing any pain points along the way, leaders will have a clearer understanding of where and how change needs to occur and what the next stage of their digital transformation journey should be. At this point, when the other obstacles to the operational cycle have been ironed out, they can then consider introducing artificial intelligence (AI) or robotic process automation (RPA) to ease the manual aspects of staff’s workloads.


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