Claire Darbyshire (pictured below), head of health and social care technology at Agilisys, reveals the barriers that remain to providing digital social care and health effectively in the UK
There is no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic caused increased awareness of the need for digital social care and health – especially the use of technology in the delivery of care.
And, having worked closely with the NHS for 23 years, there are a number of technology advances that I believe will be key focuses for the health and social care industry in the coming months.
Digital technology provides an exciting and constantly-developing range of solutions, but is commonly under-represented in health and care strategic programmes.
But, with attention now firmly on pandemic response and recovery, there is no better time to consider engaging the support of those with digital transformation skills.
This will enable organisations to mitigate the impact of high-volume, high-acuity demand and create better modern working processes for teams who need capacity to both care and restore the balance to their own lives.
Digital technology provides an exciting and constantly-developing range of solutions, but is commonly under-represented in health and care strategic programmes
The Government’s Innovation and Integration white paper, published last February, made reference to transactional bureaucracy, and I agree that the processes in health and care can stifle team productivity and bewilder patients and their carers.
Good service is now unfathomably reliant on extraordinary people working around processes, rather than being the norm.
Automation and artificial intelligence (AI) could resolve the many examples of documents sitting in emails or in-trays waiting for action.
These technologies are truly revolutionary and will enable leaders to consider what they can achieve with the additional capacity freed from their most-valuable and in-demand resource – their teams.
It is time to challenge perceptions; embracing technology isn’t about replacing humans with machines, it’s about recognising that the humans running our public services are overwhelmed and the demand keeps rising.
We can support them to work differently with the support of modern technology.
The Innovation and Integration white paper reflects aspirations for joined-up approaches, collaborative relationships, and population health.
It also supports strategic decisions that can shape health and care for decades to come.
Yet, multi-agency collaboration can be challenging for leaders trying to find a balance between the immediacy of service delivery and creating space for innovation.
Good service is now unfathomably reliant on extraordinary people working around processes, rather than being the norm
This is because they don’t necessarily have the right tools and insights to help them understand how people use services from community to acute and back again, so using data intelligently is critical to service planning and delivery.
Data and intelligence too often hinder the change needed to sustain services.
The deployment of sensible local approaches can help strike a balance between the legislation intended to protect people, and the legislation intended to protect data. For example, developing a data infrastructure alongside dynamically-evolving pathways between health and social care providers with place-based approaches or connecting care pathways and teams around the people they care for through person-based specific information, providing only what is necessary and proportionate to inform efficient and timely care delivery and support.
This action alone would improve the efficient use of our valuable and stretched workforce’s capacity for care.
Creating a modern work environment for teams supports a healthy work and life balance, while decreasing risk from fatigue and presenteeism. And, as such, it must be a key objective for public services facing workforce challenges.
In an age where we are taking more interest in our own health through our phones and personal health at home devices, I am minded of how we personally interact with health support remotely and the value of being able to do so.
There is a growing gap between our personal capability to understand our own health and care needs, and our expectations for connection with professional care and support when it is needed.
Bridging this gap will be important in future public service sustainability.
But, as the cost of implementing digital solutions now is significantly less than continuing to react to high volume, high-acuity demand, why isn’t the digital transformation agenda moving faster?
Embracing technology isn’t about replacing humans with machines, it’s about recognising that the humans running our public services are overwhelmed and the demand keeps rising
Those championing digital approaches to care need alignment with corporate and clinical strategic support for investment.
Even if they have that support, they are likely to be asked for evidence of short-term impact on the current key challenges of high-cost, high-volume, uncontrolled demand.
While commissioners and strategic decision-makers want the best for public spending, this approach stifles the innovation required to evidence the impact they are looking for.
The Government and NHS England have recognised this and have supported Accelerator Programmes with some central funding.
NHS Digital has also recently published its intention to create a transformation factory, with the aim to attract talent from other sectors to strengthen health systems and create NHS digital leadership roles for future delivery.
While this might be viable as a medium to long-term plan, the battle cry is certainly to act now.
As digital skill capacity and ingenuity is needed immediately to sustain public services; there are some star players on the bench.
While commissioners and strategic decision-makers want the best for public spending, this approach stifles the innovation required to evidence the impact they are looking for
I am hopeful that emerging ICS commissioning arrangements will support local digital innovation in collaboration with talented and experienced digital pioneers from outside of the NHS to inspire service pathways with digital at their heart, while the NHS takes the time to develop its internal future digital workforce.
Through technology, it is possible to develop and sustain social care and health services that transform the lives of patients and workers.
And these can be used to bridge issues such as the funding gap in social care, retain workforce through modern work processes and wellbeing, and create high-quality citizen and patient experiences through intuitive, accessible, and intelligent technology-enabled care.
With technology implemented correctly and effectively, a new era of care could be available for all who need it.