Putting people at the forefront will speed up digitisation

Blog: Prof Maureen Baker, Chair of PRSB

In an organisation as far-reaching and wide-ranging as the NHS, complete digital transformation has remained a challenge for the past decade. With so many people now using a multitude of different services to meet their needs, cohesive and connected information sharing has never been more important. But it’s not easy to achieve. 

A new report by the National Audit Office, which was completed before the start of the COVID-19 crisis, has analysed the current state of digital readiness in the health system, highlighting some of the key challenges. It stressed that while progress has been made in some areas, there is still a considerable way to go before we achieve a truly digitised landscape. In addition to many trusts not having up to date technology, healthcare data is extremely complex and there are many governance and privacy issues to consider.

Interoperability, the seamless sharing of information between systems, has also been flagged as one of the most important cornerstones of the digitisation process. 

We fully back the report’s recommendations that standards for information sharing must be set and adhered to by national bodies, and that coded structures for digital patient records will be an integral part of this. PRSB has already developed a number of standards that can support trusts in recording the information they need to deliver better and safer care. The next stage is to encourage wide-spread implementation and we will fully support all efforts to make this a reality. As well supporting professionals with adoption through our support services, we’re also developing online tools and guidance to help ensure that everyone can use standards- even those at the early stages of digital development. By acclimatising themselves to standardised data sharing, it will make it easier to put the information sharing into practice when systems are revamped. 

Another key challenge that was identified as a barrier for all types of digitisation was professional buy-in and involvement. In 2011 the National Programme for IT (the Programme) was stopped early and didn’t deliver ket benefits. According to the report, this was partly due to the lack of clinical and stakeholder involvement in the IT development process. At PRSB we are extremely aware that digitisation can only be effective if frontline professionals are onboard and engaged. That’s why all of our standards for digital information sharing in healthcare are developed with the people who will actually be using them- which includes doctors, nurses, patients, carers and many others. This was also reflected in the findings from The Doctors Download consultation in late 2019, where we worked with The Academy of Medical Royal Colleges to interview 420 practising doctors. As well as fixing the basics of technology in health and care environments, they pointed out that clinicians should play a key role in shaping digital transformation. They also expressed concerns that too many different technology solutions were a barrier to improving care. Moving forward it will be important to reduce day-to-day friction in the use of technology to support healthcare service delivery, which means working collaboratively. 

In some places we are seeing improved pockets of interoperability where our standards are being used. For example, trusts who have implemented our e-discharge summary standard have reported greater efficiency within their teams. Sharing of information digitally has also reduced errors, leading to safer practices for both professionals and patients. Meanwhile the impact of COVID-19 has demonstrated how technology solutions can be fast-tracked and adopted when people are less risk averse. In some areas of practice, virtual consultations are transforming the working lives of clinicians and proving more convenient and accessible for the people who use them. Learning from the positive outcomes of the COVID-19 crisis will be important so that we don’t lose momentum. 

At PRSB we’re already starting to see the difference that standards can make to clinical and patient outcomes. We’ll continue this mission of not only developing standards, but also encouraging implementation, cultural change and championing the success stories. 

For more information on our standards and how you can get involved, contact us on info@theprsb.org

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