Mike Smith, Director Large Enterprise & Public Sector at Virgin Media 02 Business, focuses our thoughts on achieving interoperability and driving the digital rebound in healthcare
COVID-19 tested healthcare systems across the world. It forced medical professionals to collaborate in new ways. And it put a spotlight on interoperability.
This is the process of sharing patient information, history and healthcare plans between hospitals, pharmacies, healthcare providers and crucially, social care providers.
It hasn’t been easy in the past. This is because of the huge volumes of data involved, the regional structure of the NHS, the complex relationship between primary and social care, and concerns around security and privacy. The growing scope of private healthcare and care services means there are additional silos of medical information across the country.
But the pandemic has accelerated digital progress and put new foundations in place.
This is promising because interoperability is critical to making the NHS’s Long Term Plan a reality. But it can’t do that without further integration.
Health leaders need to step up their investment in digital transformation. Doing so won’t just help meet the Long Term Plan’s targets. It’ll transform our economy.
Our study with the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) shows digital adoption in healthcare could add £33 billion to GDP by 2040.
That kind of financial boost could help transform healthcare and patient outcomes, freeing up resources to help improve A&E performance; deliver improvements in cancer, mental health and primary care services; all while enabling us to deliver more integrated services. Now, health leaders need to take three steps.
They must adopt an ambitious attitude towards digital innovation. They must draw on the technological successes of the pandemic to enhance patient care and advocate for integration. And they must upgrade connectivity services and applications.
Interoperability demands an open, ambitious attitude towards digital transformation.
In East London, health experts are pioneering data sharing with great results.
The Discovery East London Project is an attempt to build an integrated data system covering 1.5 million people. It involves GP practices, mental health trusts, Clinical Commissioning Groups and Queen Mary University London.
It aims to predict individual health needs in real-time based on patients’ medical records and live data, allowing healthcare professionals to intervene early when they see warning signs.
While still in its inception phase, there have already been impressive results. In Tower Hamlets, anonymised datasets have been combined with information on where people live and work to map deprivation and morbidity outcomes across the borough.
This has created a much clearer understanding of health issues and is being used to allocate resources. It is also playing a key role in informing the National Cancer Registry, contributing to applied research on cancer care.
So far, clinicians say they are spending around 48% less time on paperwork – saving £940,000 in the process.
The success of the project so far shows what can be achieved from innovative thinking about interoperability.
By engaging with a wide range of stakeholders, health leaders in East London have created exciting opportunities to step up collaboration, support pioneering research and improve patient outcomes.
Building on pandemic success stories
COVID-19 drove unprecedented digital acceleration within healthcare. And this led to innovative uses of data.
The NHS set up Oximetry@home and virtual ward pathways to support COVID patients. People were given a device to measure blood oxygen levels, linked to an app on a smartphone or accessible on the web.
This enabled patients to track their symptoms and share their results with medical teams, allowing healthcare professionals to intervene in the event of deterioration.
“NHS leaders have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to build on digital progress, transform collaboration between Trusts and enhance patient care.”
The NHS also developed a national COVID-19 data store, bringing together multiple information sources from across the health and care system in England.
This would have taken years under normal circumstances, but leaders were able to set this up within just a few months due to the urgency of the situation.
This helped them forecast hospitalisations, plan available capacity for COVID-19 patients and routine care, and understand more about the spread of infection and how it might affect vulnerable groups.
As they look towards the COVID rebound, health leaders need to build on these successes.
They need to invest in systems that enable data sharing and interoperability. And part of that is about embracing the right connectivity solutions.
Drawing on the power of connectivity
Interoperability depends on the ability to share large volumes of information at lightning speed.
So, it’s vital health leaders review their networking services and applications. Do they provide the flexibility, agility, and resilience needed?
Greater Manchester is one region that’s recognised the critical importance of connectivity.
Working closely with the medical imaging supplier, Sectra and Virgin Media O2 Business, the Pennine Acute Hospitals NHS Trust is ushering in a new region-wide approach to analysing x-rays, MRI scans, CT scans, mammography, and other critical diagnostic imagery.
This is allowing medical professionals across the region to immediately view and report on detailed images remotely, ensuring patients benefit from rapid and specialist advice, even if those experts are working from a different hospital.
With a lack of medical imaging experts across the country — especially in fields like radiology — this initiative will be critical to delivering first-class healthcare to Greater Manchester’s 3.2 million residents.
As these projects are rolled out elsewhere in the country, the importance of ultrafast connectivity will only grow.
An integrated recovery
NHS leaders have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to build on digital progress, transform collaboration between Trusts and enhance patient care.
By embracing innovation, drawing on the successes of the pandemic and upgrading their connectivity solutions, they can take great strides towards interoperability and revolutionising patient outcomes.
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