Transforming healthcare through digitalisation


Dr. Mahiben Maruthappu, Senior Fellow to the CEO at NHS England, outlines how digitalisation will transform healthcare…

Digital has transformed almost every aspect of our society, from how we order a taxi, to renting accommodation, to ordering food. It has improved the efficiency of banking transactions 100-fold and saves the airline industry over £2bn a year.

Yet, while the majority of our population owns a smartphone and uses digital, at the moment only a small number use it to interact with the NHS. We speak of sweating our assets in healthcare, but perhaps the most overlooked asset is the smartphone. Tremendously powerful, personalised and connected. At a time when pressures on the NHS couldn’t be higher, the need to adopt digital and incorporate smartphones couldn’t be greater.

As the NHS seeks to achieve its aims of radically upgrading prevention, better integrating care, and boosting efficiency, digital is the tool that can enable each of these to occur in tandem. From supporting patients in achieving self-care, to diagnostic support to clinicians, to integrated electronic medical records that combine data spanning the health and social care system, while slicing through administrative costs. Digital can and will transform care. The only question is when.

In an effort to embrace and harness digital, we have a launched a number of initiatives to disrupt the system, matched by over £4bn of funding in NHS technology over the coming years:

Prevention: type 2 diabetes costs the NHS around £9bn a year and entails a number of serious complications for patients, including limb amputation – even though the condition is largely preventable through lifestyle modification. To address this, we have launched the world’s first Digital Diabetes Prevention Programme, aimed to identify patients at high risk of type 2 diabetes and, using a digital platform, to encourage them to adopt a healthier diet with greater physical activity, to reverse this risk and prevent diabetes from occurring.

Patient empowerment: we have found ways to encourage use of apps in the NHS to allow patients to better manage their own conditions, from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) to mental health problems, while knowing that the digital technologies they are using are evidence-based and cost-effective.

Specialist care: a dozen NHS hospital trusts have been selected to serve as digital exemplars. Each hospital is receiving up to £10m, to enable front-line staff to use digital tools and deliver better care. These range from real time video links between ambulances and emergency departments to support better care during journeys to hospital; electronic detection and alerting of patient deteriorations such as sepsis; and online systems able to reduce medication errors by up to half.

Scale: while the NHS has a strong track record when it comes to the discovery and development of innovations, it has struggled to achieve scale. To tackle this head-on, we launched the NHS Innovation Accelerator (NIA) one year ago, designed to spread tried and tested technologies across the health service, including apps and digital social networks. In its first 6 months the NIA benefited over 3 million patients, and within a year over 380 organisations had adopted NIA technologies, demonstrating that the NHS can indeed be disruptive.

These initiatives are part of a comprehensive strategy to digitalise the NHS; empowering patients to better manage their conditions, enabling front-line staff to deliver higher quality care, and boosting system efficiency. The digital revolution has the potential to realise our health, quality and efficiency ambitions; now is the time to embrace it.

Dr. Mahiben Maruthappu

Practicing Doctor and Senior Fellow to the CEO

NHS England


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