Opinion

Paperless NHS Investment Should Focus on People, Not Products

IMS MAXIMSOpinion Article by Shane Tickell, CEO, IMS MAXIMS.
The UK Government's commitment to invest £4bn in technology for the NHS in England yesterday is welcomed, but the taxpayer's money needs to be spent wisely to have the anticipated impact.

The case for technology to help transform care services is not new. Busy hospital and community staff require relevant information at specific interactions with patients to provide them with the best possible care in the fastest, and safest manner.

The funding commitment by the UK government identifies electronic records as an area for investment. This is key firstly in helping to free up precious time for clinicians to spend with patients to improve the quality of consultations, diagnosis and treatment.

But it also lays the groundwork for much needed innovation in the NHS too. Urgency to adopt technology has increased in recent times as our health system struggles to cope with demand for services and as patient's expectations change rapidly. Our friend Roy Lilley makes a very pertinent observation: "If they [patients] can book a holiday online, why not a doctor's appointment? If they can access their bank on the move, why not their healthcare records, too?"

I recall the Minister for Life Sciences George Freeman stating last September that "despite almost 60% of adults in the UK owning a smartphone we know only 2% of the population has had some kind of digitally-enabled interaction with NHS." This needs to change and innovation cannot be stifled.

The foundations for innovation
Our work with Taunton and Somerset NHS Foundation Trust has laid the foundations for innovation in their acute and community hospitals. Following phase one of its change programme, our electronic patient record is already improving access to vital information for its staff, but because the system is interoperable and open source, the opportunities to add other systems or connect/develop apps are endless.

We are now working with them on making their outpatient department paper-lite. This change alone will help their clinicians to view patient notes, order tests, write notes and book appointments from anywhere in the county. Why is this significant? Because any resulting software developments can be shared with other healthcare providers to use as they wish, for free.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt talked about the benefits of 'proper' IT investment. How do we define this? Firstly, I would say it's about value for money. Expensive systems are not always best, as the national programme for IT (NPfIT) demonstrated. Open source technology is a great way of achieving this as it puts hospitals in control of how they implement and use the software. They can access and adopt software that has been developed by other hospitals rather than rely on a single software supplier. It empowers local ownership which means any investment in technology will have a better chance of success. If you are interested in learning more about open source in healthcare, I thoroughly recommend this whitepaper by our research director, Paul Cooper.

Secondly, and more importantly, I would say it is about delivering technology that puts people first. The NHS serves people who are unwell. People are also the doctors, nurses, healthcare assistants, receptionists, porters who have the compassion, expertise and commitment to take collective care of their local community when they at their most vulnerable. We must not lose focus on who, not what, the technology we provide needs to serve.

Investing in our home grown talent
Another important group of people are those that work in healthcare technology - the software developers, informatics enthusiasts, IT personnel, chief clinical information officers and clinicians - these people, and others that surround them with their ideas, have the skills and expertise to deliver true innovation in healthcare, and furthermore, make a difference to our society.

The UK has a proud history of producing world leading experts in science and technology. Inventor of the internet, Tim Berners-Lee, and chief design officer of Apple Jonathan Ive, spring to mind. I would like to see steady investment in UK industry, and I believe NHS staff are a multi-talented, untapped resource that can support long-term shared ownership of innovation for the public good.

Great work is being delivered by NHS test bed sites and Academic Health Science Networks to push innovation across the NHS. But we all have a responsibility to contribute. That's why this year, we'll be launching the IMS Applied Research Centre (IMS ARC) an experimental lab where we can try new concepts as prototypes such as mobile apps, big data, genomic mapping, dashboards, and more.

I believe we should create an eco-system of eHealth knowledge to share and develop solutions to today’s healthcare challenges. Our IMS Academy, an initiative to develop skills, challenge current thinking and embrace innovation will demonstrate a lifelong investment in people who live alongside the health economy and add real knowledge and value to the challenges.

As a company, and a team, we pride ourselves on a culture of nurturing people and challenging problems. Our method of working is collaborative and cooperative. This was not brought about by open source, it has been our methodology for 30 years, it is how we have developed and become what we are today.

Yesterday's announcement is a great opportunity for us all who work in the health sector to seize. Let's not let our people down.

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