May 08, 2017

7 tips for a successful digital health project

Technology advancements are changing the way we live our lives and this is creating a wealth of opportunities for the NHS to grasp. However, while most of us accept that digital will become an increasing part in the way care is delivered, there is still little consensus on what a “digital NHS” should look like.

If you are looking at implementing a digital health project but you’re not sure where to start, here are some tips to help you on your way.

Get a clinician to design it, not an engineer

The NHS is littered with well-meaning, but badly designed digital projects which end up with boxes looking for patients to attach themselves to. The potential benefits of a digitally enabled health and care system are huge, but can only happen when driven by healthcare professionals, not technologists. Apps and gadgets are all well and good but they need to be carefully designed around the whole pathway. This leads me on to point two.

Look at the whole patient pathway, not just the digital bit

The key is getting down to the nitty gritty of the problem and what you are trying to solve. You need to look at your options and consider the clinical, financial, operational and governance aspects as well as potential solutions. Is technology even the answer? It might be that you uncover training gaps or that better documentation is needed. Don’t use technology as a digital plaster.

Be ready to pull the plug

There are lots of reasons why a good digital idea may end up not being viable.  It must demonstrate improved clinical outcomes, savings or capacity and if it doesn’t it might be time to call it a day.

Define success and know what the end game is

Make sure you can quantify what you are improving. Whether its clinical outcomes, prescribing costs, reduced A&E admissions, productivity or patient satisfaction, being able to evidence your innovation is key.

Consult widely

Ideas are rarely successful if developed in isolation, especially something as wide reaching as a clinical service change. You need a broad range of friends, from a clinical lead, exec sponsors, budget holders, and IT. Keep them in the loop at every step and ensure they are bought in to what you are doing.

Evidence is everything

The evaluation report is usually seen as the paperwork that needs to be completed at the end of a project. However the only thing that will remain after the project has completed will be the evidence presented in the evaluation, meaning it is the only thing that really counts. Agree the evaluation methodology and pass criteria at the beginning and design it into the project.

Be realistic

It doesn’t need to have all the bells and whistles, but just enough to prove (or disprove) if the proposed digital intervention makes a difference. Aim for a patient cohort of around 100 – this should generate enough data. However it’s the modified pathway you’re evaluating, not the gadget or app, so make sure that you complete and follow a complete Standard Operating Procedure.

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