‘Digital’ is a term which seems to have caught the interests of the many, and if 99 people heard the term digital, there would be 100 different opinions of what it means. Right now, there are 42 digital strategies which will be/will have been created for Integrated Care Systems (ICSs) with the bold task of changing how care is delivered to enable better outcomes, but in a backdrop of frugality. The topic of how to get digital right is a BIG one, but today I wanted to share what recent experience tells us you must address, so that NHS organisations equip themselves to embrace this transition and derive genuine value for both the providers and recipients of health care.
Many of the world’s leading care systems are born out of crisis and need, and COVID-19 taught us what can be achieved with digital, data, and technology. We saw NHS Digital create a digital national booking system capable of handling over 870,000 appointments in one day (November 2021), with over 50million appointments booked in total; we saw NHS trusts create virtual wards which transformed patient access so that acute, monitoring, and treatment can be provided at home; and we saw how the NHS App became the most downloaded free app on the AppStore, with over 7.3m logins a week. Wow. Would someone have believe this could be possible in 2017? The answer is no, and it highlight how, when done right, digital, data, and technology was capable of creating transformation at an extraordinary scale and pace.
It sounds pretty good right? So, job done? Not at all – now is the time to revisit, reassess, and realign endeavours by utilising all that we have learnt to create sustainable change which sticks. Step 1 is to create the right digital strategy, building a digital health roadmap which will drive lasting benefits for patients, programmes, and populations. Based on our experience of working with ICS’s and providers, we have shared the following five learnings:
- Chose a few digital initiatives and do them well – All to often Digital Strategies fail as organisations try and do too much, and create a shopping list which is not achievable, and sets expectations which are unachievable. Equally, be cautious of change apathy stepping in due to constant change.
- Clinically-led and costed – Create buy-in and consensus amongst those that provide care. You will be surprised how much easier digital journeys are when those that you serve are already on-side.
- Purpose led, technology enabled - Technology has significant potential to empower patients and citizens in managing their own health, alleviate workforce pressures within the care economy, and reduce the number of visits to acute departments. But, care providers have spent billions on technologies to try to harness the potential of digital, however, the value and benefits of these solutions has in some cases remained unseen. The KPMG Customer Experience Excellence Report from Q4 2021 highlights that more than one third of respondents expressed that healthcare services are still difficult to access and that digital applications are not shaping an effective solution. The ever-growing landscape and market of technology products can seem as confusing as it is exciting. To put their best foot forwards, it is essential that care providers position themselves as an intelligent customer, regarding technology as an enabler rather than a quick fix. To achieve this, organisations should have a clear understanding of their current state and desired outcomes. A robust digital strategy is based on how it can serve the organisation as a whole, the technology that is brought in should serve a clear purpose, working for the people and existing processes. A people-centred solution is created by learning what the requirements are for the intended end-user, outlining clear processes needed to shape an effective solution and finally scoping the technology to fit this purpose.
- Data driven - All around the world, we are starting to witness the transition in how data is used in healthcare: from how the data is captured, shared, and utilised to improve the quality of care provided. There is a growing need for better data sharing and enhanced collaboration between providers across the continuum of care. Care should be delivered in the right setting at the right time and based on the right information. However, we find that health and care is still data rich and information poor. Petabytes of data are still locked in clinical and back-office systems, 80% of which is unstructured and 'incomplete'. For an organisation to tap into this potential, they need to be deliberate about how they gather, store, and use data for the insights required. Standards for data quality should be defined and adhered to. Documenting and implementing an effective data strategy, which should include data migration from legacy technologies, will then help to unlock the information needed from these systems.
- Workforce – As we continue to move to make better use of digital, data, and technologies, it will require a ‘rethink’ on the workforce of the future. This means a reassessment and redesign of skills is required in the future so that the best use can be made of digital, data, and technology. But we should do this in consideration of the following:
- The ‘care gap’ which is expanding due to an ageing population and informal care providers reducing
- Think of a unified workforce at an ICS level, rather than restricted to the bricks and mortar of a hospital.
- Ensure governance mechanisms exist so that you continue to assess demand and capacity, horizon scan, and assess and optimise benefit and value creation. By doing so you continue to optimise the workforce and remain agile to the changes we all know are on the horizon due to the uncertain times yet to come.