Making The NHS Fit for The Digital Future

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The National Health Service – NHS – holds a very special place in the UK’s culture.  It is a massive institution, the world’s 5th largest employer, and exists to use taxation, rather than health insurance, to guarantee free medical care to all at the point of need.

This principle was enshrined at its creation in 1947 and subsequently a system was created that goes way beyond any proposal in Obamacare health care reform in terms of public health provision.

But since that time, the healthcare needs of the UK population have changed massively.  An aging population and the rise of lifestyle diseases such as diabetes being but two examples of new pressures and priorities that have to be dealt with whilst meeting expectations of improved efficiency and quality of care.  In this digitisation has a key role to play.

The next step in state health service evolution

One of the most interesting and little-reported initiatives to help make the NHS fit for the digital future is NHS.UK Alpha, a joint initiative of the Department of Health, NHS England and the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC), the national provider of information, data and IT systems for commissioners, analysts and clinicians in health and social care.

All three bodies are working together to set the vision for NHS.UK and plan for next steps in the state health services evolution. It’s a broad-ranging project that’s already talked to patient representatives, clinicians, local government, digital inclusion organisations and the third sector and is talking to many more.

The policy behind the future of the NHS has been spelt out a working party. Progress on the development of UK healthcare is covered by a NHS.UK Alpha blog.

Understanding the patient’s digital desire

In its ambition to better connect people to the information and the care they need, the NHS.UK Alpha project is grounded in understanding the needs of patients and front-line staff, because designing services with that understanding is key to making services people will actually want to use.

So far, the project has established that digital is desired – people want the NHS to be digital where it can, and should be, digital; that patient experience is a journey around which NHS services can be designed; that people want fast, practical, real-life information and services; and that personalised information can be motivating for people to better look after their own health.

What is particularly interesting about the NHS.UK Alpha project is the way it is collecting information and exposing its research results, using all manner of social media to do so. For instance, we learn through that a group of common needs for patients when dealing with symptoms include: I need to know if I need urgent care; I need to know what I should do next; I want to know where I can go for the right care; I want to avoid going to the GP/entering the system; I want to know if it’s possible/wise to treat this myself; I need to stop/alleviate the pain I’m in; I need to know what’s causing my symptom.

Connecting people to the care and information they need

All the learnings so far have reinforced that NHS.UK’s key role should be directly connecting people to the care and information they need. That might sound obvious, but all too often the team behind NHS.UK Alpha report have seen people having to understand how the health and care system works in order to be able to get what they need (and not ever being able to access certain services that they desire online).

That being so, overall NHS.UK Alpha sees a future NHS.UK helping to: bridge the gaps between services, information and organisations; work for everyone regardless of their digital skills; give people autonomy by providing people with the right tools appropriate to the right phase in their care; provide a personalised experience; earn trust by signposting people to the best information regardless of who provides it and support professionals so that they can serve patients not process.

One of the earliest outcomes of the work is a commitment to improve digital access to appointment booking at GPs surgeries which account currently for three out of five digital transactions patients have currently with the NHS and to ensure the one in six of GP appointments that could better served elsewhere in the system is done so.

Delivering at the scale of the NHS

That might seem a set of bold ambitions and one should not underestimate delivering at the scale of the NHS. But answering many of those needs for information and delivering many of the benefits outlined above is exactly what we’ve already been doing using the digital Medelinked Platform for healthcare consumers and the professionals who care for them worldwide through health insurance providers.

And I, for one, want that enhanced experience in future to benefit the NHS and all who rely on it for their healthcare services.

Written by Ian Gallifant, CEO Medelinked Health Platform

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