The rise of digital and how it can help to transform the NHS

With the rapid growth of digital technology, and a range of unexploited opportunities resulting from legacy IT programme failures, the NHS should embrace digital technology to genuinely transform the way services are delivered.

The rise of digital

The digital age is upon us, with the ‘digital universe’ reportedly doubling in size every two years - by 2020 the amount of data we create and copy annually will reach 44 trillion gigabytes[1]!

Established players such as Google and Amazon, and new entrants such as Uber, who have the foresight to see the ‘size of the prize’, are creating exciting and disruptive products and services that are re-shaping entire markets.

This is affecting all industry sectors, and no more so than healthcare; the global market for digital health, including mHealth, was worth £23 billion in 2014 and is expected to almost double to £43 billion by 2018[2].

In early 2014, and out of curiosity rather than any particular need, I bought a wearable fitness tracker to monitor my vital statistics. At the time there were a handful of compatible apps in the app store. Now there are 1000s – in fact, Health & Fitness was the fastest growing app category for Android in 2014 and it is estimated there are now over 100,000 apps dedicated to mobile health[3] available for both Android and iOS, a figure which has doubled over the last two years.

As discussed in the Moorhouse ‘Millennials and FinTechs’ September Perspective, the next generation of consumers expects digital access to services by default. Whilst I can’t claim to be a Millennial (just), I certainly share their desire. From my own experiences as an NHS service user, I’d like to see improved information sharing and case management workflow between different settings of care, such as GP services and hospital outpatients.

This would not only save me time, but would also improve the productivity and experience of clinicians and staff, who I’m sure are as frustrated as I am by referrals and results being lost in the post, or needing to be repeated in each department due to some out-dated policy.

With over 10 years’ experience of designing and delivering technology-enabled change across a range of industry sectors I believe that, with the right sponsorship and collaboration, the NHS has a number of significant opportunities to leverage existing digital technologies and implement new ways of working that can rapidly deliver improvements to service effectiveness and efficiency.

So how can digital help to transform  the NHS?

Year-on-year efficiency targets are becoming harder for NHS organisations to achieve with the low hanging fruit on the tree of productivity having already been picked, leaving only the higher risk, more complex, but possibly more rewarding opportunities to consider.

Since the high profile failure of the NHS National Programme for IT (remember headlines[4] like “£12bn NHS computer system is scrapped...”), many NHS organisations have been reluctant to do much more than keep legacy systems secure and functioning.

Therefore this new wave of digital technology offers a range of largely unexploited opportunities to help fix some of the biggest challenges across the health & social care sectors. Examples include:

  • Reducing demand - through digital activation of the public, patients and their carers to improve health and avoid unnecessary or inappropriate use of healthcare services.
  • Improving public and patient experience - improved access to information and services through digital channels such as Skype consultations, online appointment booking and online access to personal care records.
  • Increasing productivity – through improved provider access to patient information, enabled by interoperability solutions for better information flow within and between organisations and care settings.
  • Delivering better outcomes – through better informed decision making provided by ‘big data’, e.g. clinical triage decisions. In the 2015/16 edition of the Moorhouse Barometer on Change survey, only 11% of our respondents claim that they leverage ‘big data’ effectively to inform decisions. Big data offers huge potential, particularly in healthcare, and the danger is that those who don’t leverage it will be left behind.

We have possibly the best GP IT systems in the world, we're just not using them fully yet

With the rise of digital, now is the time for the NHS to move out of the shadow of the failings of the National Programme for IT, build on the successes it has achieved (we have possibly the best GP IT systems in the world, we’re just not using them fully yet!), and drive genuine digital transformation of the service delivery model.





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Joe McGarry Partner