Rob Hurrell, Business Development Director at Aire Logic, explores how technology supports the vision of a Paperless NHS and improves patient care
I remember having a discussion with a colleague about DVD recorders as a ‘stop-gap’ technology, a gimmick which would quickly be replaced by streaming. We remarked how quickly things had changed and tried to think of something beyond the reach of technology, before settling on a book.
A book surely couldn’t be improved upon: convenient, portable, and easy to store, it offered everything you could need. Of course, not only do popular e-readers now offer the opportunity to carry a library of thousands of books on a single, lightweight device but much of our reading is now done online anyway.
As we race to keep up, technology continues to bring rapid change, with very few aspects of our lives not touched or influenced by it. For the most part, it offers opportunity and convenience, but technology for technology’s sake, much like the DVD Recorder, is a misstep which promises much, but does not meet our needs and is quickly superseded and forgotten.
Technology for technology’s sake promises much, but does it meet your needs?
None of the world’s largest companies today could easily explain which part of their business is ‘business’ and which part is ‘IT’. Technology has come of age, evolving from a supporting player, to a driver of business change, to a fundamental aspect of how companies operate and present themselves.
The same is true in Healthcare. Against a backdrop of financial and resource constraints, technology is often seen as the best, perhaps only, route to simultaneously increase efficiency and improve patient care.
Multiple government initiatives (NHS Long-term Plan, The Five Year Forward View, and the Global Digital Exemplar Programme, amongst others) support the vision of a Paperless NHS, which harnesses the best that technology has to offer for treatment, research, and the optimising of care pathways. In this sense, technology impacts on everyone and, in turn, everyone from Oncologist, to Finance Director, to Ward Nurse, to IT Manager, has a vested interest in the conversation around which technology projects to pursue, what to deploy, and how. Ultimately this all focuses on the improving care for patients.
Business and technology are co-dependent and intertwined. Can you tell the difference?
We need to re-evaluate which technologies are actually useful to us, going forwards.
With such a range of voices feeding into the conversation and technology front and centre in strategic projects, it can be difficult for Trusts to know where to start. The real challenge is that without a reference point, a Trust doesn’t have a clear view of its own image. This is where external consultancy can help; much like a mirror, it holds up a reflection of current state, so that an organisation can gain a clear idea of business capabilities (‘Where am I and what do I have?’) and Business Vision (‘Where do I want to be and what do I need?’).
Consultancy firms have been helping to answer these questions for years but follow well-worn approaches without keeping pace with the changes technology has brought. As projects have grown in scale and ambition (electronic and shared patient records, digital imaging platforms, etc.) and more departments interact with these systems, so all departments become more interdependent. In an ideal world, consultancy needs to account for technology and business needs in the same breath.
Looked at through this lens, a consultancy might focus on the following areas and ask these questions:
- Application Portfolio Management: How do I get control of my business applications?
- Project Options: How to I choose the correct technology to meet objectives?
- Strategy by Domain: Is my organisation’s strategy supported by my technology?
- Business Capability Maturity: Which of my capabilities should be better, which work well?
- Governance: Am I confident that my governance is effective in controlling risk?
By answering these questions, Trusts can understand their position against core strategic technology projects which offer improved efficiency and better care. They can see, for example, where they sit against the HIMSS model, which measures the adoption and use of electronic health records, before identifying projects and building business cases for funding which supports them.
Crucially, they may find that this approach, based on technology and strategy working hand-in-glove, represents the best reliable means of additional funding for major Trust projects in the years to come.
Consultancy helps Trusts understand their readiness for core strategic technology projects
Done right, consultancy helps Trusts understand their readiness for core strategic technology projects, which offer improved efficiency and better care.
In the same way that a DVD recorder now represents a siloed device, replaced by solutions where lots of subscription services are accessed through a single interface, so Trusts find that they operate in a holistic technology ecosystem. Gaining visibility of what they have is only half the challenge.
The real question is whether a change to one workflow, one business process, one technology solution, will impact on many or all of the others. ‘If we pursue this project, what impact might it have further downstream? On patient care? On cost?’ The ability to predict the impact from even the smallest changes is hugely valuable, and many companies have adapted their consultancy offering to help with this, but those who have an implicit understanding of technology in a rapidly changing world will be most successful.
Technology decisions have always been important for the NHS; now, in the grip of the global Covid pandemic, they are more crucial than ever.
At a time where Trusts are developing and integrating systems at break-neck speed in order to trace, map, research and treat the virus, having a good understanding of their capabilities, their goals and their capacity to meet them is key. After all, it is this approach which forms the bedrock of the next phase, where Artificial Intelligence solutions will sift Data Lakes and flag potential issues before you even know you have them. Whether we read our books on paper or on screens, technology continues its rapacious march, all around us.
*Please note: This is a commercial profile