The world is changing; what has been described as ‘the fourth industrial revolution’ is upon us. Bringing together physical, digital and biological science, this technological transformation is developing at an exponential pace, industries across the board are being disrupted and transformed and the health and care system is no exception.
There is potential for digital technology to significantly impact on the NHS Five year forward view (Forward view) ‘triple aim’ of better health, better care, and better value. Digital technologies can also drive, and underpin, care that is truly integrated around the needs of people - breaking down the barriers that have historically existed between primary, secondary and social care services, and support people to stay independent and well in their own homes and communities.
Digital technology is only a means to an end, not the end in itself, but can be a powerful hook and catalyst for change. Health and care services need to be rigorous in ensuring the technologies they are adopting are making a positive difference, including watching out for unintended consequences and avoiding developing an overly crowded marketplace.
At the same time, the barriers to unleashing this potential for the benefit of service users and citizens, as well as the system itself, should not be underestimated.
This report showcases some examples of how local champions and partners have come together to test out using a whole range of technological solutions to achieve the triple aim. These early adopters have carefully tested a range of useful technologies which enable more efficient, targeted, person-centred services from delivering remote consultations to using tracking devices.
The teams involved should be applauded for their creativity and tenacity in overcoming tough barriers, ranging from money flow, safeguarding, privacy, staff capacity and capability and governance. The report also highlights some key lessons for enabling the adoption of digital technology across the system.
While it is vital to ensure that lives are never put at risk and valuable scarce resources are not wasted, healthcare can be culturally risk averse and slow to adopt innovation. Attempts to integrate services can often become bogged down by governance and bureaucracy. There is an inherent sustainability challenge in that digital technology across our connected world is developing rapidly. You may still find antiquated fax machines in some dark corners of the system in comparison with a digital industry which has developed technology which can read people’s thoughts, created driverless cars, produced 3D printed prosthetic limbs and invented contact lenses that measure blood sugars! Health and care cannot afford to be left behind.
This report highlights that it is possible to overcome the many challenges to adopting digital technology in health and care, and use it to enable more efficient, integrated, precise and personalised care
It is always really important to remember that all forms of care are about humanity. It is delivered, governed and commissioned by people. The system provides care for people when they are at their most vulnerable. Understanding how to build relationships of shared trust, purpose and responsibility should always be at the heart of any new developments and changes. One of the golden rules of a quality improvement approach is to ensure common ownership of the issue and solutions from the beginning, rather than the uphill struggle of encouraging buy in later on down the line. This means bringing all the stakeholders ‘into the room’ from the onset including clinicians, politicians, citizens, managers and other partners; creating safe spaces for open and productive dialogue. Linked to this is the need to support all staff and service users and citizens to grow their digital confidence. This is how strong foundations for the best possible solutions can be built, where the real cultural change can begin to take place and where the people become inspired to champion the innovation across their peers.
This report highlights that it is possible to overcome the many challenges to adopting digital technology in health and care, and use it to enable more efficient, integrated, precise and personalised care.
These vanguards have forged ahead. There is a pressing need for the rest of the system to catch up! As William Gibson says: “The future is already here. It’s just not evenly distributed!”
Health Service Journal Patient Leader
Managing Director, Sheffield Flourish (UK Digital Charity Leader 2017)
Non-Executive Director, Care Opinion