NHS digital transformation – will the new app meet the 2018 deadline and is it a viable solution?

Earlier in September, Jeremy Hunt gave a speech at the Health and Care Innovation Expo where he promised the national rollout of an integrated NHS app, which patients will be able to use for ordering repeat prescriptions, accessing medical records and booking GP appointments. Hunt went on to describe his plans for bringing the NHS into the digital age, but does the NHS have the right technology at its fingertips to complete this project by the end of 2018, as promised? And what technology should be implemented by the NHS to help modernise their customer service operations in general?  

It is clear that all healthcare organisations need to improve clinical, financial and administrative outcomes. By implementing the new app, the NHS has the potential to revolutionise patient care and the customer journey with lower costs, greater efficiency and a superior patient experience. However, in order to make the healthcare service truly seamless, patient interactions must utilise all channels, such as social media, mobile apps, live chat, co-browsing, phone calls, self-service, and in-person visits. 

In terms of rolling out the NHS app, the key to the success of this application will be the ability to integrate this new technology with existing systems and utilise information and back-end systems that are already available. Furthermore, process improvement and quality of patient interaction should be included into the introduction of this solution.   

However, those managing the project should act with an air of caution. We know the expense that was incurred through the digitisation of patient records, and this solution should build on that legacy, utilising patient information rather than re-capturing it. If implemented and used correctly, the application should be a starting point for the extension of digital interaction to include patient-centric care plans which should include the integration of health and social welfare needs. This should become one component of a fully-functional, patient-centric, scalable, care management and administration solution.   

Another word of warning – the NHS is a complex entity, with a myriad of back-end clinical and administrative solutions. The solution announced by Jeremy Hunt needs to be built with extensive ready-built integration capabilities, in order to improve constituent service across all channels and instantly comply with changing business models and regulations that will inevitably emerge. 

One must applaud the ambition to put this solution live next year. Those involved in the project must, though, be mindful of the challenges that exist to make this a starting point rather than blind alley for achieving patient interaction, in the same way that consumers now expect to deal with their bank or online retailer. Additionally, to deliver a full enabled care management solution capable of taking on board a wider range of patient interactions and changes in care management policy that are bound to happen, will require a solution that is flexible and an enabler rather than a constraint to change. 

For the NHS to be able to offer a completely digital customer service, a Unified Enterprise Platform available via G-Cloud 9 procurement framework is required. This is the most suitable form of technology, as organisations can easily and incrementally migrate to the service. However, as all application platforms are built slightly differently, when using this type of platform, it is important to consider the time to value and need to integrate and exploit existing legacy IT investments.   

The announcement of a new app has also served as a distraction to the real elephant in the room. Too many healthcare providers are still stuck in the rut of sticking faithfully with the processes that were originally manual and paper-based, rather than changing them to take benefit of opportunities that automation and use of different channel offers. New ways of working should offer the personalised service that people so desperately want. 

Personalised healthcare provides a win-win situation for all concerned; patients feel as though they are receiving a level of care that is personalised to their specific needs, while healthcare providers can manage their resources more effectively and at a much lower cost. It’s also important for healthcare institutions to recognise that this is no passing fad – and a potentially much more effective cost-lever than the price of care itself. The next logical extension of this trend is that these technological advances will also begin to focus less on monitoring and reacting to specific symptoms and conditions and instead look at ways to prevent them. So, for example, if you’re going through a phase of eating too many fatty foods, under stress, or not getting enough exercise, your healthcare provider will be able to proactively contact you to advise you if you are running the risk of illness. 

Constituents deserve and expect excellent service when dealing with the public sector, but there is still a way to go. To meet numerous similar, but not identical requirements, change should be applied incrementally, using Unified Enterprise Platforms that can deliver fully-integrated solutions. These platforms are currently available, but when making the choice as to which one is most suitable, caution must be taken to select one that is built using the most up-to-date IT capabilities on the market, which can be modernised quickly and easily adjusted in the future to deal with any policy changes. 

Management throughout the NHS today faces multiple pressures that may seem difficult to reconcile. Throughout the organisation, managers are being asked to improve quality and consistency of service, comply with aggressive regulatory mandates and cut costs. It is clear that technology is a key part of the solution, but it must be part of a wider transformation programme that includes changes to process and organisational structure to take advantage of new ways of doing things. Let’s not constrain the vision by what was the appropriate in the past and recreate a legacy. Whilst the app is a great start to the NHS’s digital transformation process, Jeremy Hunt should have a clear vision of the opportunities of a different operating model supported by the best in class IT solutions available. There is still some way to go.   

Peter Ford, Public Sector Industry Principal at Pegasystems 

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