2017 appeared to be the year where digital technology really came to the forefront in the healthcare sector. Whilst promises of a digital revolution have been circulating for a while now, this year projects in healthcare showed that digital technologies can make a real difference in how we approach healthcare.
At the Health and Care Innovation Expo earlier this year, health secretary Jeremy Hunt spoke about the ways in which digital technologies can help transform the NHS. The health secretary gave a number of digital examples that have been rolled out a local level across a number of Trusts throughout the UK.
From efficient uses of digital booking systems being deployed; vital monitoring technologies helping to enhance patient safety and partnerships helping to bring digital technologies to Trusts, the NHS has made the first steps towards a digital change.
The changes are nationwide as well. The Royal Bolton Hospital has installed a digital communications system to help staff monitor patients at night, in Liverpool they’ve underwent a digitisation project to create paperless environments and Nottingham University Hospitals are utilising early warning scores to treat deteriorating patients quicker.
However, whilst these changes are welcome, the NHS is still facing unprecedented demand, an ageing population and workforce strain. More so, whereas more and more Trusts are making aspects of their systems paperless, the NHS still has a “long way to go when it comes to hospital IT systems” according to Hunt.
Speaking during his keynote speech at the Health and Care Innovation Expo this year, Hunt said that the NHS’ “single biggest weakness, [which] is the state of our hospital IT systems”.
There’s no greater example of this than the WannaCry attack that badly affected the NHS, forcing it to cancel appointments and shut down systems.
Steps to improve the NHS’ cyber-security have already been taken. The government has promised £21 million funding for improving the cyber-security of the NHS and social care organisations. More so, NHS Digital has launched a £20 million project that analyses threats and advises Trusts on how best to approach cyber-security.
Funding aside, the Government released its strategy on cyber-security in November this year, focusing on ways to bring safe digital products to market. It was announced that the Department of Health and NHS Digital will be working with the Medicines & Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) to simplify steps for healthcare organisations and industry when developing health software and connected medical devices.
These steps show that the NHS truly cares about digitising its services in ways that are meaningful and impactful. There are definitely areas which it needs to improve upon however. Legacy systems continue to be a problem for connecting NHS systems and hospitals are continuing to use potentially vulnerable operating systems.
By next year, Jeremy Hunt wants all patients to be able to use an app that lets them access their healthcare record, book a GP appointment and more. Arguably it’s a service that should already be available and hopefully next year, it won’t be another missed target, but an example of where the NHS is headed.