Our NHS is one of the most impressive and extensive healthcare systems in the world, and bringing it into the digital era is no easy task. Speaking at the Gov Today Digital Healthcare event in London, NHS England’s director of informatics, Professor Jonathan Kay, said he wants to see a chief clinical information officer (CCIO) in every NHS provider and clinical commissioning group in the future. He argued that one of the best ways to usher our health system into the information age is not a trial and error approach across the board, but rather communication between CCIOs across the country about what does and doesn’t work to find out how best to digitise the NHS.
Last year, health secretary Jeremy Hunt challenged the NHS to go paperless by 2018 – no mean feat, even for an organisation a fraction of the size. In his speech, Kay pointed out that hospitals are still far from reaching this goal. The digitisation of patient records is the first step, followed by collating these records and making them available across the health service. Even such a simple (albeit logistically daunting) change to the NHS could reap massive benefits, with paramedics responding to an emergency call being able to see the medical history of their patient before even arriving at the scene, for example.
Looking into the future, a digitally enabled NHS has the potential to benefit hugely from recent advances in technology. Currently, the Internet of Things is relatively limited, a concept still in its early stages, but its application in a healthcare setting is obvious: imagine an entire ward in which the monitoring equipment also reported to a centralised network of information, which could be accessed by healthcare staff on the go from anywhere in the hospital. Not only could anomalies and long-term trends be easily identified on a patient by patient basis, but larger trends in demographics and age groups could be analysed – without any extra effort. With the use of intuitive, visual information dashboards, nurses and doctors could be more informed than ever before.
Such developments are some way in the future yet, but we have the means to begin working towards them now. Over the course of last year over a billion pounds was made available to NHS providers to improve services, and more specifically to work towards digital goals and the integration of technology into the daily workings of the NHS. Whilst this is no small investment, it remains to be seen if money is all that the NHS needs. To truly make the most of today’s technology in a strategic and efficient way, a wholesale change in attitude is required – but the benefits thereof, for both staff and patients of the NHS, will be priceless.