Collaboration, not competition, is the new direction of travel for the NHS and health technology will help break down barriers between organisations to turn the ambitious vision of joined-up care into a reality for every patient in England. And it will help reduce the backlog of 5.1 million people on NHS waiting lists.
The NHS leadership wants the new integrated care systems (ICS) in development across England to ensure they take advantage of the “transformative potential” of digital and data. The emerging partnerships promise to bring together NHS, local government and third sector bodies to deliver more coordinated services for patients by removing traditional divisions separating health and care providers.
NHS England says technology should be at the heart of creating effective local systems but it also acknowledges that digital maturity and data quality is “variable” across the sector in spite of great leaps and bounds made during the pandemic. It has told ICSs to use digital and data to drive collaborative working, connect health and care providers, improve outcomes and put the citizen at the heart of their own care.
In its latest guidance, NHS England has told ICSs to have “smart digital and data foundations” in place by next April.
A handy checklist of credentials to look for in a digital health partner
To help the new partnerships fulfil the potential of digital and data, we have produced a handy checklist of credentials to look for in a trustworthy digital health partner. It is based on our experience and expertise of working with NHS organisations at the cutting edge of technology-enabled care. Feel free to share with your colleagues.
Meets real need:
All digital health technologies should meet a need in the NHS. Whether it is reducing costs and bureaucracy by introducing more efficient processes, or making a condition easier to manage at home for patients, technology should offer new solutions to existing problems.
All digital health partners should be able to provide a credible evidence base, with a clear breakdown of benefits, outcomes and limitations, to meet the NICE evidence standards framework for digital health technologies. The framework is intended to encourage the confident use of innovative, effective tech in the health and social care system.
Any health or care technology should be person-centred – designed with the user at its heart. It should do what it’s supposed to for the patient and provide a positive user experience. Technology should be pleasing and easy to use, otherwise people simply won’t use it. NHS login is a great leap forward for users, giving patients a single, secure login for their health and care apps and websites, and NHS organisations should look for this integration in their potential partners.
Not everyone has access to WiFi or the latest smartphone. All digital health partners should offer a choice of communication channels – including video, landline, text, apps, web and voice assistant – to make NHS services as inclusive as possible.
Patients can then choose the right technology for them, regardless of age, where they live, ability to pay or how tech savvy they might be. Partners should also be able to support citizens whose first language is not English.
Accessible to all:
Applications and websites should be accessible as possible. Check with potential digital health partners that any patient-facing software works for any disadvantaged users and offers enhanced readability and navigation. It is worth remembering that nearly half of all pension-age adults are disabled.
Digital services should be co-designed, with input from clinicians, users and digital providers. This brings together expert knowledge from the NHS and the technological know-how of digital partners to create innovative solutions that work in the real world.
Purpose-built for the NHS:
Digital health partners need to understand the complexities, pressure and challenges of working in the NHS and design technologies to fit existing NHS services. Experienced suppliers should be able to identify and work with key stakeholders to make sure new technologies are adopted and rolled out successfully.
Digital health partners should be willing to design, and redesign, their service on the go, to meet changing needs in the NHS. They should take a flexible, agile approach to conceptualisation, development and evaluation. Technology moves fast and so should any potential partners.
Economies of scale:
NHS organisations can end up with many different technology partners providing services of all shapes and sizes, adding to cost and workload. Inhealthcare can deliver multiple services for a wide range of morbidities through a single, robust platform, unlocking economies of scale for the NHS.
Value for money:
It is now widely recognised that digital technologies offer an exciting opportunity to drive efficiencies and savings across the NHS. Any service chosen should offer clear economic value and evidence for the savings they can offer the NHS.
Services should be fully interoperable, with open APIs. They should be compatible with existing NHS systems, including third party wearables, self-testing devices and apps, and clinical IT systems, such as EMIS Web and SystmOne.
Login and MESH:
NHS login is the secure way to sign-in to a wide range of health and care services. Digital health partners should offer integration with NHS login to make it quicker and easier for patients to access their services. They should also offer integration with MESH, the main secure large file transfer service used across health and social care organisations.
Digital health partners should be totally transparent and accountable about data use and make data security a priority, in line with the government’s code of conduct for data-driven health and care technology.
NHS organisations should have access to the data being generated through their services. Dashboards give clinicians the latest insights into pathways, alerts and communications and enable them to pinpoint any issues with treatments and identify operational improvements to enhance planning and avoid bottlenecks.
No free lunches:
Finally, some partners give their services away for “free”, especially in times of need as we saw during the pandemic. When they are fully embedded, do not be surprised to see big price hikes at contractual renewal for the continuation of services. There really is no such thing as a free lunch.
The Inhealthcare view on ICSs:
As a digital health innovator, we welcome the new NHS direction of travel in England towards greater collaboration between health and care providers in local areas. Technology helps to break down barriers between organisations by making the right information available to the right people at the right time to improve patient outcomes and reduce the burden on front-line staff. It also helps to build links between separate providers, as we have seen in our work across England.
Health Call partnership
Inhealthcare was a founding member in the Health Call partnership of NHS trusts in the North East and North Cumbria to design, develop and roll-out digital health services for a population area of three million people. Today, the NHS-owned collaboration provides a wide range of digital health and remote monitoring services across the North of England – all using Inhealthcare’s market-leading technology. These include an NHSX-backed self-testing service for patients who take anticoagulation medication which is being deployed from Newcastle to Bradford. People are giving the service the thumbs-up as this story about CVST patient Steve Clarke illustrates. Other Health Call services provide support for people with gestational diabetes, frailty and musculoskeletal disorders, among other conditions.
Inhealthcare is providing the technology for the breakthrough Oximetry@Home programme for the remote monitoring of people with confirmed or suspected Covid. The service is a fine example of collaboration between different NHS organisations and spans seven ICS areas across southern England. NHSX-funded research shared by Dr Matt Inada-Kim, the national clinical lead for deterioration at NHS England, shows the Oximetry@Home service has reduced mortality, length of hospital stay, intensive care admissions and readmissions. Researchers at the University of Southampton said the service “has demonstrated considerably improved patient outcomes”.
The Inhealthcare approach
Both these examples highlight the Inhealthcare approach in action – a single technology partner for the rapid roll-out of multiple digital health and remote monitoring services to enable care to be delivered at home for a diverse range of conditions.
The Inhealthcare platform, registered as a Medical Device with the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) and listed at the GOV.UK Digital Marketplace, allows for automated monitoring, self-care, monitoring of long-term conditions, immunisations, digital e-consent, monitoring of care homes and delivery of behavioural change programmes. The result of substantial and ongoing investment, our robust platform is used to deliver virtual ward programmes across the NHS in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
We are proud to be working with NHS organisations across the UK and helping them to take advantage of the “transformative potential” of digital and data and drive collaborative working, connect health and care providers, improve outcomes and put the citizen at the heart of their own care. Collaboration, not competition, is the way forward.
We hope you’ve found this checklist useful – feel free to share with your colleagues and contacts – and please do get in touch if you would like to find out how Inhealthcare can help your ICS via email@example.com