What lies ahead for health technology in 2016? We look at some predictions for the year.

At the start of the year DigitalHealth.net provided 16 healthcare IT predictions for 2016, with comment from the HSCIC, NHS England, NHS Shared Business Services, Orion Health and IMS MAXIMS, amongst others. The work of the National Information Board and the delivery of the NHS.uk platform were also noted as likely to have an impact over the coming months, as well as increasing interest in open source.

However, even with additional investment promised for the NHS, some are saying that the year will be challenging. The complexity that the NHS finds itself in could see 2016 as the year that the NHS disintegrates, according to an interesting if pessimistic article in the Guardian Healthcare Network.

A similar sense of the challenges facing the service was evident in an interesting article from Richard Taunt of the Health Foundation, reported in the HSJ. Health economies are charged with delivering sustainability and transformation plans (STPs) this year, yet do so with threats to social care and NHS staff morale. Do we need to fundamentally shift our expectations as to what is realistic to expect from the NHS, he asks?

NHS technology watchers will be familiar with shifting expectations, and so it was interesting to see the somewhat sensible call for technology funds to come from the STPs noted above. If done properly, this should help make IT strategy part of business strategy, and will mean that the year ahead should see some form of dedicated technology fund for the last time.

Some technology vendors see 2016 as an opportunity to develop the NHS “memory” needed to avoid repeating mistakes of the past and to enable positive change. Donald Kennedy, managing director, Patientrack said: “Innovative clinicians who want to find new ways of ensuring improved outcomes for their patients and who want to avoid past mistakes seen in healthcare, need access to a collective NHS memory. To date much of the memory has been locked up in millions of pieces of paper. Sharing memories digitally in the NHS will help unlock changes for the positive. 2016 can be the year when the NHS develops the memory it needs by collecting data electronically, connecting it with interoperable systems and delivering it using modern technology.”

Others can see that the need for technology to support home-based care will have to be made real. Tom Morton, CEO of intelligent digital health and care platform provider Communicare247, said: “The use of digital technology to support the delivery of care to people in their own homes will start to take shape. As local authorities and healthcare providers come together in new models of integrated care, they will see that digitally-enabled telehealthcare will deliver care closer to home using a more reliable and cost-effective platform than the current analogue infrastructure can provide. This will help people live more independent lives, better coordinate the support that staff can provide, and reduce the need for expensive hospital admissions.”

Elsewhere The King’s Fund wrote an interesting piece on technology to transform health. Smartphones, assistive technology and genomes were all present and correct. Precision medicine and population health are likely to become widely discussed. Future-gazing in NHS Choices predicted new gene-editing research, breastfeeding incentives, and medical drones. The website even asked whether ‘human farms’ could be viable.

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Such farms are unlikely to address the workforce issues facing the NHS, with the Nursing Times predicting a chronic nursing shortage in the year ahead. The growing pressure on the NHS was a common theme, with Chris Ham noting how the NHS needed to focus on better value to deliver the £22bn of productivity improvements it is expected to realise by 2020/21, with growing prominence emerging for recommendations from Lord Carter on hospital efficiency.

Across the pond, Healthcare IT News outlined predictions for 2016, which included greater definition and implementation of population health, and a rise in security threats.

Back in the UK, for IT leaders as a whole, BCS president Jos Creese forecast that greater demand for digital technologies and data are likely to disrupt the market over the coming year.

The need for investment in technology is agreed by all; however with immediate pressures facing the NHS, blue sky thinking may well have to give way to dark realism.

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