Dr Simon Wallace, of Nuance Communications, looks at the impact the NHS Long Term Plan will have on the shift to electronic patient records and the adoption of new technology in the healthcare sector
One of the key pledges identified in the NHS Long Term Plan is to put the health service on a ‘digital first’ footing, with the aim of providing a more cost-effective framework and delivering world-leading care for years to come.
Matt Hancock, health secretary, has spoken of fostering a ‘culture of ambition and innovation’ in the way the NHS organises its services. He has also expressed his willingness to make the changes necessary to allow the government’s vision to become a reality. It is at turning points like this, that the government has the opportunity to maintain the enthusiasm of clinicians. The healthcare sector is on the edge of change, and there is promise in the air.
Embracing technology, and supporting a digital revolution, has the scope to improve service delivery and the patient experience, as well as improve day-to-day efficiencies for professionals.
With the proposed financial backing promised by Theresa May, and the new plan in place, the NHS has the opportunity to increase the adoption of the likes of electronic patient records, integrating patient data in a meaningful way and linking with social care systems to provide a complete citizen overview.
A new central role for technology
The promise of a new central role for technology, and the clear appetite for adoption of innovation from clinicians and healthcare bodies, brings further potential to the healthcare sector.
A necessary step needed for the NHS – in its current stressed environment – is to achieve a single summary view of each patient’s healthcare record – with key, pertinent summary details for healthcare professionals to see – whatever part of the journey the patient is on. If achievable, this would form the foundation to enable uniform access to our patient records, in real-time, wherever we are.
There have been several attempts at achieving this in the past, and it won’t be an easy move today due to the complexity of the NHS’ IT estate, but we have the technology available today to make it happen.
Alongside this, the deployment of applications like Skype will make it easier for patients to access and consult with their healthcare practitioners – for example, via video consultations – so they can get access to care and treatment faster, at a time of their convenience and at less expense. All of this requires high quality clinical documentation – and for that we need to lean on technology.
It’s time to move from the dark ages
In a recent interview Professor Joe Harrison, chief executive of Milton Keynes University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, noted the lack of tech progress within many of the areas of the NHS. Certain sites across the NHS do not have wifi, and a number of staff still use pen and paper to capture data, he pointed out.
Nuance’s work with Homerton University Hospital, last year, confirmed these observations. Prior to working with Nuance, clinicians in outpatients were still creating handwritten notes and relying on outsourced medical secretaries to type these up. As the workload of clinics increased, backlogs were building. Clinicians were staying late at work to catch up on admin and outpatients were also experiencing slow clinic letter turnaround times – of around 17 working days – despite large, outsourced transcription costs.
Then Homerton deployed speech recognition technology to capture the patient consultation more naturally, efficiently, and on their own terms.
With speech recognition technology on board the hospital has reduced the turnaround time on clinic letters from 17 to just two days. It’s a demonstration of the potential of technology to transform services – but we need to do more to realise the benefits outlined in the NHS Long Term Plan.
The promise of large-scale impact for the healthcare sector
If we can ensure that the promised budgets for digital technology are secured, we are going to see large-scale impact on the healthcare sector in the coming years.
The cloud will transform patient services, with its scalability, ability to reduce expenditure by not having to invest in additional hardware or recruit expensive technical resources to run software, day-to-day. With costs cut on technical support and management overheads – and software continuously updating – healthcare organisations can look away from the management of technology to focus on the delivery of patient services.
The focus on technology in the NHS Long Term Plan is a nod to the role which tech deployments can play in improving patient services. Enabling clinicians to spend more time with patients, and less time tied up in administrative processes, will play a key role in Matt Hancock’s 10-year vision becoming a reality.