If you were to put together a list of forward-thinking, innovative organisations, it would be a fair assumption that the 72-year-old public sector cornerstone that is the National Health Service (NHS) might not feature alongside the likes of Microsoft and Apple.
In fact, the ability to adapt and adopt new technologies has been considered our healthcare service’s Achilles heel.
Those wanting to emphasise the NHS’s tech failings will have to point no further than the infamous multi-billion-pound NPfIT programme abandoned in 2013 as an example.
The willingness to push forward into the digital age has always been there, but compliance and regulatory regimes, the navigation of complex frameworks, and rigorous testing processes have often thrown up barriers and hindered progress.
Furthermore, let’s not forget the sheer array of different systems in play across the sector and the amount of individual sovereign authorities to contend with.
However, since the coronavirus crisis began in the UK, the NHS has proven itself to be more dynamic and flexible than ever before, in an effort to manage the emergency response.
It is this adaptability and the need for interoperability across local, regional, integrated care systems (ICSs and STPs), that have been the driving force behind the rapid uptake of technology.
As such, organisations across the sector have harnessed digital solutions to support widespread communications and share much needed vital information across once siloed organisational boundaries.
Telemedicine becomes a reality
Telemedicine – the practice of providing healthcare services online through a secure connection – has long been touted as a way to deliver care to those in remote circumstances and without the opportunity, ability or means to physically visit a practitioner. Covid-19 made that nearly everyone.
In response, many care provider organisations across the UK have rapidly switched to online consultations and remote monitoring. This has allowed for clinicians to remotely monitor their patient’s vital signs and provide consultations by phone and web-enabled video.
Added to this, inter-NHS communication has been enhanced with the adoption of apps and collaboration tools designed to reduce the reliance on landlines and pagers, and facilitating communication on and between wards, as well as across other care settings.
The primacy of data
In a fast-moving situation like a disease pandemic, the need for accurate and timely data, attached to specific locations and individuals could mean the difference between containing and isolating an outbreak, and allowing it to spread unchecked.
Tracking and tracing of those infected with coronavirus will be fundamental in the lifting of lockdown measures in all parts of the UK, which will require the marriage of information from different parts of the healthcare sector, with the technological expertise of private sector companies.
NHSX, and NHS England and Improvement, were quick to form a development partnership with the likes of Amazon, Google and Microsoft to deliver a data-sharing platform that will have to become one of the most important tools in society coping with Covid-19.
While the rapid flight forward into the digital world will not be without its concerns – from security and data protection to patient safety and the nature of the public/private relationships – the nature of this crisis has demonstrated just how much, and how quickly, healthcare can evolve.
We should not be quick to throw away the process rulebook – the process for the approval of digital solutions is there for a reason. However, in the last few months than we have seen a notable premise for innovation and adoption than we have the last five years. It is this potential for change should outlive the lifetime of this pandemic and last long into the recovery.
Glen Hodgson, head of healthcare, GS1 UK