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Expert advice for healthy services

Government has recognised the benefits of promoting digital health channels and services. This leads to better quality of service delivery and reduced costs as a result of streamlining existing models and making greater use of automated and self-service health channels.

However, change on this scale requires expert help and support, and in its digital transformation work with the NHS, specialist management consultancy Prederi has achieved huge success.

Within the NHS in England digital is being driven by a combination of national initiatives and standards, and local activity as well as an overarching five-year digital and paperless NHS strategy for all health service providers.

Bhagiyash Shah, director, Prederi

Bhagiyash Shah, director, Prederi

In primary care, the national IT specifications include requirements for cloud-hosted patient records, and basic digital service capabilities and interfaces for fast, secure and paperless sharing of patient records across the NHS.

Meanwhile, GP contracts require general practices to provide basic online services for patients, such as the ability to book appointments and order repeat prescriptions online. GPs also provide digital services to patients within the overall local health strategy developed by their local clinical commissioning group (CCG).

However, there is a lack of consistency, as Prederi director Bhagiyash Shah explains. “Some GP practices have offered online appointment bookings for years; others are only just starting,” he says. “Some have high-quality websites offering information on local services that support patient self-help and reduce unnecessary appointments or use of A&E; elsewhere, others are struggling with insufficient internet bandwidth to operate cloud-based IT systems.”

The marketing of digital health services also presents challenges. Unlike the commercial sector, where there is tangible monetary or convenience value, the benefits of digital health services are not always clear to patients, so communication and engagement are key to success.

Prederi recently worked with Waltham Forest CCG to implement a digital services strategy. The area has an ageing population and many people are suffering from multiple medical conditions that, when poorly managed, cause increased unplanned A&E attendances and hospital admissions.

“Our client wanted to implement new joined-up care models, improve local NHS productivity and effect changes in patient behaviours,” says Mr Shah. “They recognised that investment in technology was a pre-requisite for the transformation of care delivery needed to achieve a sustainable local NHS.”

Health service managers face enormous pressure to do more with fewer resources, all against a backdrop of relentless digital change

Working with clinicians across the borough, social care colleagues and partners across East London, Prederi helped the CCG implement a business-focused IT and digital strategy. This resulted in improved clinical decision-making through better availability of patient information, an improved patient experience, greater efficiencies in GP practices and across local services, and real value from IT investment.

Mr Shah adds: “The CCG saw the system-wide introduction of innovative information and communications technology – ICT – and digital solutions as a key enabler.”

If digital health services are to be successful, greater control over their design and operation must sit with service users, which means IT professionals must acquire skills in facilitation and empowerment. Such a move also needs to be instigated and promoted by CCG commissioners and clinical leads within the major health providers, including hospitals.

Health service managers face enormous pressure to do more with fewer resources, all against a backdrop of relentless digital change. So while they need a long-term strategic focus, they also need tactical agility to avoid technology pitfalls and exploit emergent opportunities.

“Our role is to provide expert support to many health providers who are at different levels of digital maturity,” says Mr Shah. “We are in a position to provide an overview of what is happening elsewhere in the health sector and, by cross-fertilising their thinking with the best digital ideas from the other sectors in which we work, including local and central government, ensure they get the best solution.”