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Is the NHS investing in healthcare technology rather than healthcare transformation?

Accenture Doctors Survey shows secondary care takes second place when it comes to healthcare IT adoption in England.

Overview

According to a recent Accenture survey of healthcare IT adoption across eight countries, England shows 60% adoption of healthcare IT in primary care, but only 22% in secondary care. This gap in healthcare IT adoption is indicative of the gaps created by technology silos within the NHS.

The legacy of IT investments has trapped the NHS into maintaining the requirements of technology rather than investing in transformation to meet the requirements of healthcare delivery. These one-off solutions have created a technology patchwork that hinders the sharing of healthcare data. Rather than investing in technology that enables clinicians to enter patient data, future investments should focus on technology that connects silos—and clinicians—to facilitate better patient outcomes at a lower cost and ensures swifter decision making and treatment.

Background

In October 2012, the government outlined plans to offer £100 million to the NHS for nurses and midwives to spend on new technology, such as digital pens and other handheld mobile devices. While such investments may cut paper usage, they do not connect healthcare data or contribute to greater healthcare transformation. However, it seems the government might be turning into the right direction. Recent announcements of further investments in technology might be directed to solutions that will help the NHS accomplish such integration.

Analysis
Doctors in England are doing their part to adopt healthcare IT. In fact, 73% of doctors surveyed “routinely” enter patient data electronically. Furthermore, 64% of doctors in England electronically enter patient notes either during or after consultations (up 19% overall from the prior year). Nearly half (46%) electronically send order requests to laboratories.

However, when it comes to sharing healthcare data, the numbers aren’t as robust. According to Accenture’s survey, communicating electronically with clinicians in other organizations decreased an overall 21% from 2011 to 2012. Sending or receiving referrals or clinical results electronically across health organizations has decreased by 6%.

Without effective technology that connects the healthcare ecosystem and closes the gap between traditional silos, NHS can only achieve limited transformation both in quality of care and cost management.

Recommendations

What can the NHS do to achieve healthcare transformation?

  • Offer incentives. Only 5% of doctors in England report any incentive to coordinate care with other health organizations, according to the Accenture survey. In Singapore this number reaches 19%, with increased healthcare IT and HIE adoption between 2011 and 2012, whereas England remained relatively unchanged.

  • Engage clinicians. Clinician-led transformation can help hospitals to achieve standardized patient-centric care that improves outcomes, prevents harm and reduces costs.

  • Partner with the supplier community. New models that promote connected healthcare already exist, but they require NHS to collaborate with software companies, medical associations and other partners to make these models a reality.

Just as medicine itself is continually evolving, so must the technology to support it. It must go beyond immediate needs in IT to drive deeper levels of transformation in clinical safety, patient outcome and preventative care. These can only be achieved if appropriate technology is available to support new methodologies. If the NHS invests in technology that connects the entire circle of care, the future potential of healthcare to deliver a step change in the quality of care at a reduced cost in the UK has few barriers.