Community, Digital, e-referrals, Healthcare IT, Learning, NHS

The NHS’s Epidemic: A Cure – Digitalisation

The Epidemic

The definition of an epidemic is a widespread occurrence of an infectious disease in a community at a particular time. It’s not too great a leap to suggest that the NHS is experiencing an epidemic of its own; a financial one. Every few weeks, we see newspapers dominated by headlines discussing the financial crisis the NHS is in. The answer is simple. The NHS needs more money.

In March 2017, The King’s Fund released a paper discussing the financial pressures the NHS is facing. One of the key issues listed was the rise in demand for healthcare, partially due to a population who are living longer, often with many long-term conditions (diabetes, heart disease, arthritis etc.) Combined with advances in treatment this results in a higher cost of care.

Meanwhile, since 2003 the number of admissions to hospitals has increased by an average of 3.6% year on year. By comparison, the Department of Health’s budget increased by 1.2%. This disparity is causing significant challenges that affect the NHS as a whole, from acute hospitals all the way to community services. In short, everyone is feeling the pressure.

This vicious cycle is proving very difficult to break. A lack of money means more patients are waiting longer, which results in illnesses progressing, leading to the need for more money to be spent on additional treatments. The cycle goes on and on.

Paperless by 2020

In September 2015, NHS England stated that “Cutting reliance on paper will make patients safer.”Tim Kelsey, NHS England’s National Director for Patients and Information and Chair of the National Information Board dove into this further:

“Every day, care is held up and patients are kept waiting while an army of people transport and store huge quantities of paper round our healthcare system…This approach is past its sell-by date. We need to consign to the dustbin of history the industry in referral letters, the outdated use of fax machines and the trolleys groaning with patients’ notes.”

Although going paperless is not the only solution to saving the NHS funding crisis, it is a leap in the right direction. Accepting that current process and methods are outdated is the first step toward change.

If the 2015 NHS England’s National Director for Patients and Information was pushing the agenda of going paperless and detailing how patient safety could be increased as a result, why is it we’re still having the same conversations?

The Cure

While implementing digital systems into the NHS can be challenging, in 2015, Deloitte UK published a paper called “Connected health: How digital technology is transforming health and social care”, highlighting the need for cost-effective healthcare. It showed that the NHS funding gap is forecasted to reach £30 billion by 2020/2021. The paper showed that mobile working solutions resulted in a 60% reduction in paperwork time for community nurses, increased patient face time by 29% and resulted in two extra patients being seen daily.

Benefits can also be seen on the patient side, with 75% of the UK population searching online for health information. The paper noted that patients who used technology to manage their Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD, a progressive lung condition), reported 97% high satisfaction and achieved a 94% better treatment compliance. While using a device to manage a patient’s condition is a different stream of digitalisation, all forms of digitalisation are proving beneficial. Digitalisation not only benefits patients but healthcare professionals too. As patients are becoming more informed they are wanting to be involved in the decision making around their treatment. As a result, the dynamic between patients and healthcare professionals is shifting to become one of co-creation.

Dr. Simon Eccles, the newly appointed NHS CCIO tweeted his “5 things for NHS IT to do this year”, these included:

1.      Let patients view records and care plans

2.      Recognise that ‘going digital’ is a core part of our business

3.      Deliver the stuff we’ve said we’ll do

4.      Deliver standards for interoperability

5.      Support research and ‘business intelligence’

Highlighting “going digital” being a core part of the NHS’s business is a shift in tone that should be welcomed. Change is challenging and takes champions to lead it. These are bold statements to make, with a new leader at the helm, championing digitalisation, maybe they will be the building block to the cure we need to bring the NHS’s financial epidemic to a halt.