Data is the foundation for the delivery of all future-facing health services, and there’s no doubt that interoperability and sharing of data must lie at the heart of person-focused health and care services.
Solutions that support interoperability
When techUK recently relaunched The Interoperability Charter, we were one of the first to pledge our support. Aimed at integrating primary, secondary, community and social care, it invites signatories to make their information systems more open and easier to integrate.
By enabling the free flow of patient and citizen information, suppliers help provide the foundation for streamlined data sharing across the entire care continuum. It’s this ecosystem of interoperable systems and solutions that we hope will be the beginning of a journey to complete interoperability in the health and care sector. We see this as fundamental to enabling new ways of delivering services, as well as ensuring people, their families and those working in the sector have the right information at the right time to support better outcomes.
The health and care sector needs to prioritise data flow
The launch of NHS England’s 42 Integrated Care Systems (ICSs), integrated joint boards in Scotland, regional partnership boards in Wales and other regional arrangements have made interoperability more important than ever for not just the NHS, but the care sector as a whole.
In a positive move, these regional services will help to bring care closer to the people who need it and have been set up to support integrated joint working. However, there’s a risk that the ICS model could open the door to more data silos and regional digital divides – reducing both accessibility and equality of care around the UK.
Combating this requires a bi-directional, real-time flow of information. Person centred care becomes more effective and it’s easier to circumvent regional disparities when professionals across all care bodies (subject to their role) have access to the most up-to-date information about an individual and their treatment.
Preparing for a data explosion
While an incremental approach to interoperability is unavoidable, the health and care sector needs to move fast. Health and care professionals could well be inundated with unprecedented levels of patient data over the next three to ten years, as they tackle the challenge of bringing together the data that already exists in the sector, and cope with the rise of both at digital at-home care and wearable personal devices.
Recent guidance from NHS England asks each ICS to establish a hospital-sized virtual ward, and this will drive a significant increase in patient-generated medical data. The rise of wearables and sensors in the care sector to determine patterns of living and to replace traditional analogue telecare services will also see a similar increase in person-generated information.
The challenge for the sector is managing this explosion of real-time data so that people receive the right advice and care at the right time. They will also need to feed data from these solutions into existing systems and vice versa. A strong foundation of data management and sharing will be key to turning this flow of data into tangible improvements in care provision.
Data as an enabler
Health and Care services are facing the greatest rise in demand in recent history and to help achieve this greater critical need of provision, data must be repositioned as an enabler rather than a challenge. Increasing the use of digital technologies and interoperability of healthcare data and systems facilitates informed decision-making, more efficient person-centred care, improves user experiences and enables streamlined person flow through the whole system.
It will free up health and care practitioners, allowing valuable time to be spent caring for the person, allowing focus on diagnosis and treatment by removing unnecessary administrative tasks. Empowering care staff with data enables better decision making in the home, or homely setting and avoids unnecessary conveyances. Enabling a better service for everyone, interoperability will generate benefits ranging from improved experiences for patients and staff, as well as enabling efficiencies.
Common standards will drive innovation
However, data-enabled change needs a consistent digital foundation, and that shift requires a common set of standards that create a more consistent approach to managing data. In the same way that regulation facilitating open banking opened the financial sector up to innovative smaller players and gave customers more control over their financial data, health and care interoperability standards can support greater citizen engagement and encourage providers to be innovative and to take greater initiative over their digital decisions.
Electronic Patient Records (EPRs) are only the beginning
EPRs are a step in the right direction, consolidating the data held by single providers into a comprehensive overview within the NHS. But looking beyond this, interoperability needs to be extended to include other providers and services – from GPs to social care services, care providers and more.
Once data from all relevant sources is brought together, it is important to establish a person centred approach to empower people to stay in their home homes, or homely settings for as long as it is safe to do so. And to provide our service users and their families greater access to health and care information so they have visibility, are informed and can support the decision-making process in what is best for them and their loved ones.
Beyond this, data can be used for predictive analytics, creating the potential to avoid serious health complications through early intervention and mitigation measures, predict significant public health events and support system planning to make better use of the resources already under such terrific pressure. Taking a whole system approach with a truly interoperable health and care system at its heart, the sky is the limit for the future of individual care in the UK.
To find out how we are working with our new National Advisory Board to guide our understanding of industry needs and to shape the direction of travel, including towards greater interoperability, get in touch with CGI UK Chief Technology Officer for Health and Care, Lisa White.
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