Blog 09 July 2021

How technology is enabling the NHS to change working patterns

by Ikenna Emenyonu


Ikenna Emenyonu, a NHS Solution Specialist Manager here at Netcall was recently interviewed by Health Business. They asked an expert panel to share their thoughts on NHS technology and it’s use post-pandemic. Here is what he had to say…

The Health Secretary has previously said that ‘better tech means better healthcare’. How has the pandemic shown this? And how important is it that the momentum brought about by the last 12-18 months continues?

Improved patient wellbeing, together with a more efficient NHS, are both benefits we’ll gain from the ongoing use of NHS technology. Increasing digital use has shown it’s potential to make patient lives easier. A digital approach also opens the way for two-way comms, online symptom reporting, bite-sized education and shared records. All of which save time and help patients to get the care they need.

The pandemic pressure encouraged internal process changes, resulting in many teams improving utilisation and reducing waste. It proved that tech frees valuable resources. So, it is essential that the NHS continue this momentum. Agreed, there will be some pandemic projects that will drop away or be repurposed. NHS sustainability relies on continuing efficiencies and extracting every possible ounce of tech value. The question is how teams can move from ‘getting by’ to ‘getting ahead’ of their next big issue.

With face-to-face outpatients’ appointments set to reduce by a third by 2024, according to The NHS Long Term Plan, how will digital practices help ensure that hospitals are free from both infection and overcrowding?

Recent experience has shown that video and telephony appointments are both convenient and cost-effective. They are easy for patients to attend and they improve available clinical time. Clinical teams have discovered that virtual workshops add value too. Using group consultations for patients with common clinical concerns makes it easier to share experiences and learn from each other. Importantly, it saves the clinician from repeating information.

But waiting lists are still long and patients still need hospital visits. An easy-to-use pre-appointment symptom checker helps to keep patients safe by screening and helping symptomatic patients to stay at home. Hospitals using an arrival app can enable receptionists to manage patient flow from the car park into their clinic, preventing overcrowding. Similarly, traffic through a hospital can be managed using an app. This helps the flow of patients through appointments, coordinating appointments on a day.

Changes to the use of technology within the NHS to tackle the coronavirus pandemic happened at an incredible pace. Whilst this is rightly applauded, are there any possible risks and downsides to such speedy adoption?

One risk of moving at pace is that there isn’t time to explore other possible uses of a specific piece of tech. Typically, it was bought to do one thing. It’s essential to explore other uses and extract more from the investment. For example, a COVID Test Result solution may be able to be repurposed for use with other test results. Deployment under crisis is also rapid, carrying the risk that too much change is brought to the stakeholders. Crisis adoption often falls back to ‘normal behaviour’ after the pressure lifts, as people revert to comfortable ways.

But sustainability of the NHS depends on continual improvement. Post crisis, changes that were made should be revisited. The consultation group should be widened, using their involvement to embed forward movement. By promoting inclusivity, managers will build on their change success.

As we emerge from lockdown restrictions, and with hospitalisations from coronavirus low, how likely is it that technology put in place a year ago remains in place? Or will we see a return to old working patterns?

Transformation acceleration has been a positive outcome from this horrible pandemic. Naysayers of digital can’t deny its adoption across all demographics, patients and staff. The efficiency gains and cost savings have become part of operations as usual. The NHS now has the data to confirm what can be done. And where extra patient support may be needed.

Feedback from patients and clinicians confirms that these changes have made access to care easier and faster. And vulnerable patients have benefited from reduced stress. Managing high waiting list numbers is the next challenge. Teams can capitalise on the progress they have gained, to flexibly deliver optimal patient pathways at lower costs. Pandemic or not, digital transformation is here to stay. Exploiting the cost and time benefits provides teams with a means to balance needs for in-person or remote care and attention.

Even in a future without coronavirus, if that is feasible, hospitals will still have to cope with ever-increasing demands for services. How will single technology platforms help address process needs within the health service?

Delivering excellent healthcare is complex. Advances in tech delivery mean hospitals will increasingly manage different types of technology. ‘Single platforms’ have, at their core, the ability to integrate, collect and share bidirectional data. Many wrap these terms into one – ‘interoperability’. Done well, it allows users to see end-to-end health processes, as if they were from a single platform. Unified data and process flows are impossible with standalone systems.

Future plans must not accept anything less. Projects must demand open interfaces from all suppliers. The ongoing goal of seamless patient and user journeys will drive this. It will result in a reduction of cost and resource efficiency. However, digitising paper processes, without open data, is only automating manual work! Hospitals need appropriate visibility of any data from any system, wherever it’s needed. For this, you need ease of integration and suppliers that uphold standards and work well together.

Expert Panel screenshot

You can read the full panel and see what Richard Gibson, Pinpoint Limited and Simon Townsend, IGEL Technology had to say about NHS technology. Take a look at page 20 of the Health Business magazine.

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