Healthcare digitization will invariably improve the care delivery process potentially benefiting providers, stakeholders, and patients with greater use of information and digital technologies in the National Health Services (NHS). This will help in achieving a reduction in clinical negligence and litigation with better utilization of health information technologies.
- To achieve paperless NHS
- To capture and share information digitally
- To encourage digital engagements among clinicians and patients
NHS Digitization Initiative
The United Kingdom’s (UK) Department of Health (DoH) has allocated a budget of $6 billion to NHS toward its latest objective to digitize the entire healthcare? system. Moving forward these new digital initiatives led by the NHS will push the boundaries of existing clinical workflow to paperless digital health practice with greater reliance on mobile solutions and remote patient monitoring technologies. Of the $6 billion, $1.1 billion is allocated for “out of hospital care” and remote monitoring solutions, $2.6 billion for moving all paper records into a centralized electronic record systems and rest of the funds are allocated for implementing wireless technologies, purchase of mobile devices, and to address cyber security concerns in the NHS IT ecosystem. Sharing information between healthcare providers, patients, and their care workers across health and social care settings is the fundamental objective to digitize NHS.
Healthcare Digitization Will Improve the Overall Care
In the evolving digital health landscape, the digitization of health information and well integrated health information technology (IT) systems will be extremely powerful in reducing overall healthcare spending while assisting providers in the process of quality care delivery. The digitization of NHS health system can truly transform the delivery of care by means of unique offerings around evidence based practices, health analytics, and improved patient stratification. Healthcare information system adoption is high in the NHS; about 82% of them have clinical information system (CIS) in place including patient administration system, scheduling, billing, and payroll management, while electronic health records (EHR) adoption has always been phenomenally high in the NHS. Integrated digital health platforms that offer choice and agility, strengthens the impact of digital clinical engagements among providers and patients allowing health professionals to spend more time with patients. Digitized health information can pave the way for breakthrough research that was never possible when patients’ data were hand-written and stacked in back offices of hospitals. Furthermore, as the NHS streamlines digitization efforts and becomes more integrated by offering various health and care services, it will become stronger and achieve better health and financial outcomes.
With the digitization in full effect, process improvements are expected to be seen in health data management such as archival/retrieval of patient information, electronic referrals, high priority electronic drug file to electronic prescribing. For clinicians and nurses, fully digitized health system can present a whole new way of digital patient interactions, electronic observations, and handovers. Mobile devices and tablet computers in the hands of nurses can enhance mobility while caring for patients and moving between wards. Mobile health or mHealth technology can act as a digital gateway enabler for integrating patient generated data into electronic records. Bespoke cross-platform ICT tools can be implemented to harness the patient generated health data from connected devices and health wearables.
By creating NHS based eHealth strategies, digital information can be applied to learn more about population health, enhance preventive care, drive clinical decision making, and collaborative reporting. Digitization can enable shared learning across NHS, avoiding unnecessary duplications and human errors in health data processing.
Overall Challenges Involved
The process of NHS digitization is extensive and arduous; complexity is experienced among healthcare professionals and stakeholders involved. This process demands professionals from both information and communication technologies (ICT) and healthcare industry to collaborate efficiently for better outcomes. The willingness of healthcare professionals to adopt the digital technologies in practice is highly critical for standardization and further update of technology. The single most important factor that changes the way healthcare information is managed is the mobility of data between various networks, databases, and stakeholders without compromising on security.
- Interoperability Challenges: Complexity experienced while sharing information between electronic records between providers and healthcare organizations.
- Implementation Cost: NHS being a massive health system, with over 37 community providers, 154 acute trusts, 209 CCGs with more than 8,000 GPs, implementation is of a biggest concern to achieve standardization.
- Availability of Funds: Ensuring adequate funding is in place and available to service providers must be prioritized to enable smooth implementation across the health system.
- Data Governance: A fundamental challenge is the on-going concerns around patient data security and information governance. Mobile devices with sensitive data must be capable of encryption in order to overcome the data breaches.
Aforementioned challenges must be addressed if the potential value of digitization of NHS health systems to be realized. Well formulated interdisciplinary collaboration is the only way digitization of entire health system to go paperless can be successful.
Could this Type of Program Work in the Rest of Europe
European countries such as Germany, the Netherlands, France, Italy, and Scandinavia can be considered as potential regions for implementing health system digitization strategy as the penetration of EHR/EMR system, increased adoption of HCIT systems in hospitals favours the objective. Germany offers high potential for digitization, as high-tech strategy 2020 by the federal ministry of health and research has identified personalized medicine, patient safety, and data protection as focus areas of healthcare systems improvements. In Italy the eGovernment plan is a nationwide initiative that involves 9 regions, focussing on healthcare IT infrastructure and other interoperable systems. As part of the epSOS project, Italy focuses on patient summary records and ePrescribing services. The Netherlands and Scandinavia’s digital health strategy has been prevalent for a few years; however, recent developments in the national interoperability standards and the regional infrastructure for HIE have given impetus to digitization strategy.
When considering the rest of Europe, various challenges are experienced such as lack of healthcare standardization, low adoption of electronic records, and less involvement from healthcare professionals. These professionals’ unwillingness to adopt portable mobile devices in health practice is the major hurdle experienced by the health system. Due to these and many more reasons, having a digitization strategy at varying healthcare setups and landscape, be it government or privately owned, is much complicated process.
Healthcare Digitization in the United States
The proportion of electronic health records in American hospitals has grown tremendously from 15.5% in 2009 to 78% in 2014. This proves that increasing availability of large scale of digital health information over the past few years. This enormous amount of digitized data sets can rapidly fuel a growing appetite for healthcare digitization strategy offering sophisticated applications to improve providers and patients digital health interactions. HITECH, A US government program has helped accelerate the adoption of EHR has led to the digital revolution in the market place. Moreover, adoption of mobile devices and tablets computers among US healthcare professionals is incredibly high and their involvement in digital health strategy has always been a motivating factor for various healthcare organizations in the United States to implement eHealth and digitization strategies.
Healthcare digitization followed by eHealth technologies, expertly implemented across care continuum to support essential changes in how healthcare system works, can achieve what often feels near impossible in the NHS. Equipping healthcare professionals and staff with digital technologies such as smartphones, tablets, and mobile clinical assistants that have remote access to patient records can reduce the likelihood of medication errors, avoid documentation concerns, and free from data entry commitments allowing more time to spend with patients. The responsibility of implementing digital health technologies is now on the stakeholders of the health systems to collaborate and build the sustainable quality healthcare delivery model. Improving the quality of care while reducing healthcare expenditures and ensuring consumer satisfaction while bringing benefits to both patients and providers are of most importance.