Content, Health Tech Trends

Health Tech Trends Series 2021 part one: the experts answer our questions on digital transformation

It’s time for the next instalment of our Health Tech Trends Series, which is sponsored by InterSystems, as we ask readers to reflect on six digital transformation-related questions about their organisation.

In the first instalment of this two-part series, you can read the curated responses to some of the questions below, as health tech professionals explain their experiences – with replies focusing on health tech priorities for the next six months, the biggest digital transformation challenges facing organisations, and what has helped their organisations the most.

Let’s hear what they had to say…

Health tech priorities for the next six months

First of all, we asked you to tell us what your health tech priorities will be across the next months, taking us into 2022. Some respondents were ready to focus on one project, while others are primed to work on a number of tasks.

Lisa Emery, Chief Information Officer at The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust, explained what will be keeping her busy into the new year. She said, “completion of digital workplace programmes (network, Office 365), data warehouse and trusted research environment,” and also highlighted “a new EPR programme, to enhance digital skills in the organisation, [and look at] digital pathology.”

Over at South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, meanwhile, Grace Murray, a Digital Midwife, gave us some insight into what her team will be working on. She said: “Within maternity we plan to procure a new digital maternity system to replace hand-held handwritten patient records.”

Simon Stuart, Consultant Clinical Psychologist – Digital Lead for NHS Lanarkshire Psychological Services, spoke of improving “access to digital psychological resources for the benefit both of patients and the wider population.” In particular, he said, the “focus will be on brief, didactic video interventions.”

Fran Husson, Honorary Research Officer at Imperial College London, focused on “unified ways of working to drive efficiencies and enable monetary and qualitative benefits, optimised quality of care based on patient choice and equality of access, improving clinical workflows to enhance staff experience, [and to] provide a unified approach for patients to access and update and share their data with their care provider and GP using their Personal Health Records.”

Other plans mentioned by our respondents included establishing agile working, looking at the shared health and care records system, EPRs and EPMA launches, further implementation of automation, scaling-up remote monitoring and virtual wards, pharmacy service integration, to automated annual reviews.

While, from an industry perspective, Kenny Bloxham, Managing Director of Healthcare Communications, commented: “Over the next six months, our team will be working to develop and deploy technology that supports digital Patient Initiated Follow-up (PIFU) models, as part of a wider mission to help NHS trusts increase their capacity and reduce the backlog of patients waiting for treatment.

“Further to this, we will be enhancing the self-serve capabilities of our solutions, to meet the growing demand among patients to take ownership of their health. Key to this will be ensuring that our development priorities are for everyone, not just the digitally enabled, with an overarching ambition to expand the platform from being ‘patient-centric’ to ‘citizen-centric’, ergo for everyone.”

Andrew Meiner, Managing Director and Chief Commercial Officer at Silverlink Software, also said: “After a very eventful 18 months with the pandemic, the importance of joined up care has never been more apparent. Interoperability between systems is crucial to enabling that to happen, so at Silverlink, focusing on ensuring the seamless interoperability of our technology with other suppliers and systems is our top priority…our strategy is to move beyond just interoperability and to foster the bi-directional flow of data in and out of systems, in a way that is FHIR compliant.”

The biggest digital transformation challenges

But what about the biggest challenges our health tech profs are facing at the moment – at an individual or organisational level?

A wide spectrum of issues came to the fore in the responses to this question. Some mentioned finance and costs, pace of change, capacity, organisational change readiness, network speeds, time to implement, and patients not having the necessary technology.

Others elaborated further on the roadblocks they were facing, including Simon Stuart of NHS Lanarkshire, who said his biggest challenge was, “the lack of human resources to implement this work. Ask me again tomorrow and I might say something else!”

Rebecca Butler, Service Manager of Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust, brought up the “lack of communal collaborative face to face space with peers”, while James Morris, Lead Pharmacist ICT at University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire NHS Trust, spoke of the remaining “underlying paper-based thinking”.

On the issue of time, Alix Massocchi, EPR Pharmacy Specialist at Gloucestershire Hospitals Foundation NHS Trust, said, “we have a tight roadmap for delivery and having to respond to COVID and switch to remote working has added extra pressure.” Pamela Fearns, Digital Lead Nurse Implementer for The Chrisitie NHS Foundation Trust, meanwhile, spoke of “change culture”, adding that, “engagement and acceptance can be variable.”

Fran Husson at Imperial College London noted “more than perennial budget constraints and scarce resources”. She also said that “getting a buy-in for different digital transformation projects is still a real challenge.”

For Karl Redmond of Digital and Estates at NHS England and Improvement, the biggest challenge is: “Creating a robust procurement brief that captures the basic requirements whilst at the same time considers the wider implications, synergies, interconnected programs, cost, integration, interoperability (in its truest sense).

“All of which then needs feeding into robust agreements that allow for prioritised modules to be added to and/or developed year on year without proprietary interference, based on a gap analysis/roadmap that captures (in chronological order), the data, software, hardware, legals, commercials, costs, effectiveness, usability and usefulness etc. This is all headed up by the need to change the culture, educate people on the art of the possible/achievable, breaking the traditional siloed thinking and adapt an approach which builds in flexibility and adaptability because we have developed a set of ‘key principles’ that help with all the above and more.”

Kenny Bloxham of Healthcare Communications also shared his thoughts, stating that: “For any organisation, public or private, it is critical to balance immediate deliverables (including business processes, employees and customers) with future plans and opportunities for further digital innovation. Rather than spending too much time trying to predict the future, as a company, we therefore need to ensure that our methods of working are flexible, and that our technology is adaptable to the ever-changing demands of the digital health landscape.”

And Andrew Meiner of Silverlink, said: “At the moment, we lack a consistent, defined set of operational standards around both FHIR and OpenEHR. There continues to be confusion or disbelief that FHIR and OpenEHR can mutually co-exist, with many believing they are competing standards. In fact, NHSX and NHSD should be making it clear that these two standards are complimentary, and the two working together can deliver more value. Combining the two will enable organisations like ours to provide a rich, vendor neutral patient data platform, and in turn help us to achieve the separation of the application and data layer.”

What has helped organisations the most?

Next up, asked about what has helped our readers’ organisations the most. Lisa Emery credited the COVID-19 pandemic, saying that, “COVID has (sadly) accelerated adoption of home working and collaboration tools, meaning staff are more digitally engaged” –  and Leslie Dewhurst, CEO of Health-AI, also cited the pandemic.

Fran Husson agreed that, “sadly… the pandemic has forced everyone to consider new and better methods of work at all levels…”, and Karl Redmond also quipped: “COVID and to a degree the government’s desire for digital…never thought I would hear myself say that.”

Grace Murray shared that she felt that introducing her role “as a digital midwife to apply focus to the digital transformation” had helped her organisation, while Philippe Croze, Operations Manager at Nexus Primary Care Network, also mentioned that an “Onsite IT Manager role” had been a help.

Kenny Bloxham focused on strong working partnerships: “Without a doubt, our partner organisations. The product, commercial and operational feedback we receive from them is second to none, and it is invaluable for us as we continue to grow as a company and seek to maximise the quality of service we provide,” he said.

Andrew Meiner, meanwhile, similarly felt that it was “undoubtedly, having access to a supportive and extensive network of suppliers, partners, and NHS organisations.”

He added: “Being able to share knowledge with such an extensive pool of forward thinking, proactive people has been crucial in redefining our company roadmap. We want to create a culture of collaboration and integration, rather than competition and division. We all have the same goal of creating an open, connected ecosystem of health, and the way we do it is by working together.”

“Ease of meetings”, “persistence”, “video conferencing and our IT team setting up remote working very quickly, enabling us to carry on our jobs safely”, “free access of AccurX and Iplato funded by our CCG”, and “senior managers who are willing to say “yes, let’s try doing X” rather than “hmm, no, we don’t think X will work so we’re not going to do it” were a selection of the other responses.

While, Pamela Fearns said that what has helped her organisation the most is: “Having great leadership from the CNIO who has a clear vision of where the trust needs to be.”

To find out what our audience said in response to our final three questions – what they need to support their work, which area of their organisation needs the most digital improvement, and what learnings stand out from the past year – keep an eye out for part two of our latest trends series.