Digital integrated care essential for the future of UK healthcare

Jeremy Nettle

Oracle’s healthcare expert and Highland Marketing industry advisor Jeremy Nettle outlines the lessons that UK healthcare should learn from European examples of person-centred integrated care.

When you want to see an example of joined up technology that benefits people, one need look no further than the DVLA. By sharing data so that others can find out a car’s make and model via the registration plate alone, high street retailers such as Halfords can provide me with suitable options on the type of windscreen wiper I need for my car. It is excellent service that helps the organisation meet my requirements, and helps me make the right choices.

It is an example of the sort of joined up approach that we have been talking about in healthcare for over 30 years, and in the UK still has a long way to go.

To be truly joined up, UK healthcare needs to look to the examples of digitally-enabled integrated care taking place in Europe.

In Andalucia in Spain, and the Basque Country, chronic condition management has been transformed through the development of new services that support greater involvement of the patient in their care.

Tailored education, data sharing and telemedicine have empowered patients and professionals to become active participants in the provision, and use, of care. Such systems are faced with increasing demands on services from a growing elderly population – common to most health systems across the globe.

The impact of such activity, which also took place in other countries across Europe as part of the PALANTE programme, will take some time to understand; but the direction is the right one.

Putting the patient at the centre of his or her care is essential, and technology should support this approach.

Take the use of wifi in hospital. The business case for this hard; but the benefits for professionals and patients are immense. They now have a common platform on which they can access and share information about the care they provide and receive. The hospital can use a bring your own device (BYOD) policy and save thousands; patients can look up their diagnosis and see for themselves how they can best manage their condition, with appropriate clinical guidance.

Unfortunately we don’t have this capability in the community, where nurses cannot communicate with primary care in a seamless and secure way. Information does not flow with the patient, and the care they receive can suffer as a result.

The use of digital technology is central to providing more interactive patient-centred care, and make ‘no decision about me without me’ a reality. The NHS will struggle to keep pace with a consumer-driven healthcare model that has embraced newer forms of technology at pace and at scale.

This is understandable; the NHS is too fragmented to cope with a rapid pace of change, and has a chequered history in moving things forward. It is not one NHS, it is over 240-plus organisations, each with their different pressures and priorities.

What is required is an integrated approach across an entire region, just has been seen in Europe. Areas such as Scotland or London, and vanguard sites such as Manchester, may be able to take this approach. But it needs GPs, hospital doctors, and other care providers to pull together, and embed digital strategy as part of their business strategy, in order for it to have any chance of success.

So whilst the NHS continues to drive forward the information revolution from within, it would be useful to look outside itself to see how others are transforming healthcare by providing digitally-enabled patient-centred care.

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