Bringing today’s technology to tomorrow’s NHS

Last week, as Big Ben chimed out midnight and the fireworks erupted around the London Eye spectacularly, my mind went back to the chimes of Big Ben welcoming the Millennium.

We all waited with bated breath to see whether every computer in the land would come to a standstill as predicted. Intensive care units doubled their staff, emergency services were at the ready and many government departments and local authorities had contingency plans dusted off and ready to mobilise.

Due to a lot of planning and a huge investment in IT (an opportunity to replace elderly PCs) thankfully the Millennium had little impact. Twelve years on and dramatic changes in technology have occurred with the introduction of the ‘iPhone era’ where information, such as our friends’ relationship status to the latest headlines, is delivered to us in real-time through the internet, social media and mobile technology.

The ‘iPhone culture’ means that we can get instantaneous information about almost anything, like from Trip Advisor on how good a holiday destination might be and on trains, buses and planes, through to traffic congestion reports. But sadly we still can’t get information about which surgeon and or hospital has, for example, the best outcome for joint replacements.

The reality is that we behave as if the same technology we use within our everyday life is as equally pervasive within our healthcare. However, there is a silo infrastructure, which we have been unable to join up in any meaningful way despite the fact that it would release massive savings and enable real choice through patient involvement. Embracing such technology could not only support the ‘information revolution’ but create an ‘information evolution.’

What is questionable is the unidentified cost for becoming ‘E-dependent’, particularly in a world where technology projects costs are 60-70% infrastructure and support costs.

Budgets are being cut as users, in both the public and private sectors, demand more for less. Periods of rapid change in the way both enterprises and consumers use technology create not only huge threats for those wedded to old models, but also huge opportunities for new ventures and existing businesses capable of capitalising on the new trends.

As we reorganise and restructure the NHS, we must look at new ways to reduce costs, such as moving to Software as a Service (similar to the Pay as you Go tariff on a mobile phone). In addition, the NHS is increasingly seeing more organisations embracing shared services, outsourcing and even cloud computing. Interestingly the NHS has more shared service contracts than any other government department covering finance, HR and clinical functions. Could this be just what the newly formed Clinical Commissioning Groups might need?

2011 brought a lot of uncertainty, predominantly due to changes to the National Programme for IT, the continuously disputed Health and Social Care Bill and the absence of an Information Strategy. Let’s hope that 2012 brings more clarity so that organisations can work to bring in today’s technology into tomorrow’s NHS.

Exciting times ahead I believe and of course we have both the Jubilee and the Olympics to look forward too.

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