Opening the digital front door - the role of technology in delivering the Long Term Plan
31 January 2019
Last year the NHS celebrated its 70th birthday. Now, as it looks forward to the next decade, the NHS has published an ambitious plan that, if implemented effectively, means the organisation will look and operate very differently when it reaches its 80th anniversary.
The transformational agenda set out will see technology, and digital in particular, playing a key role in empowering new ways for patients to manage their health and clinicians to deliver care in a digital world. In addition, it’s also recently been reported that the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock, is proposing a new digital unit, NHSX, that would have oversight of the digital transformation delivery.
It’s clear that significant strides are already being made. But the ambition of the Long Term Plan to make digitally enabled care mainstream across the whole organisation will demand concerted action on a number of fronts. The Long Term Plan mentions many of these areas, but in this blog we look at some of the issues that we see as being of particular importance or presenting key risks.
A focus on data is critical, recognising it as a key enabler of the digital transformation. Data linked across systems is a valuable asset to the NHS and will be the foundation of many of the ambitious changes set out in the plan. NHSE acknowledges this and, since the plan was released, it has announced the national summary care record system will be replaced by more detailed national “longitudinal” patient records combining GP, hospital, and other health and social care information.
Its analysis will provide new insights and predictive capabilities that can help address many of today’s pressing challenges, reduce the burden on acute and chronic care, and usher in a new era of preventative health and wellbeing by reframing service planning around system-wide population health management.
But it also exposes new risks. As a result, cyber and data security must also be front of mind as the NHS develops its digital strategy.
As well as harnessing data to transform patient care through changes in the operating model of the health system, it must also be deployed to create new financial management capabilities across the system. Even with extra funding available, the NHS remains under intense cost pressures. The insights available from data and analytics will be essential to maximise value. Investments in digital need to balance the need to create financial value with the improvement in the patient experience. They can achieve both things when integrated systems have a view on the totality of care provision but too often the NHS has made investments and pilots without following through on the changes to the delivery models of care, resulting in poor returns on investment.
One key element of digital transformation is the development of an ecosystem of partners and providers that can help support the health innovations that patients will increasingly expect. As well as the proliferation of connected and wearables devices and monitors, there are apps and services that will rely on access to NHS data and systems. It’s essential, therefore, that the NHS is able to provide a ‘digital front door’, with application program interfaces (APIs) that combine robust security with the accessibility that ecosystem partners need to deliver innovative services that patients and citizens are demanding.
There’s no question that the NHS Plan sets out a bold and ambitious vision for the future of healthcare in England. Realising it is going to require immense resolve and commitment from across the entire organisation. But the possible rewards more than justify that effort. In this series of blogs, we’re going to explore in greater detail some of the technology-related challenges and opportunities that the plan raises and look at the new approaches and capabilities that will be essential to maximise the chances of success.