Bedfordshire, Luton and Milton Keynes ICS digital strategy places patient experience at the forefront of innovation

The three-year digital strategy for Bedfordshire, Luton and Milton Keynes Health and Care Partnership opens with comments from Mark Thomas, chief digital information officer: “The BLMK system is, at its heart, all about orienting services to enable everyone in our towns, villages and communities to live longer, healthier lives. This strategy focuses on how data and digital technologies can enhance the resident’s ability to participate in all elements of their care and data.” He adds that the ICS champions a ‘digital first, rather than digital-only’ approach, placing patient experience at the forefront of innovation.

The digital strategy is centred around six key themes, to take a resident first approach, support teams, digital to be an enabler, putting data at the heart of decision making, personalised care, and supporting collaboration and innovation. 

A resident-first approach

The first theme focuses on placing the needs and wellbeing of the population at the heart of the strategy, engaging with residents to better understand their concerns around digital technology, and including the wider community in building the strategy.

“We are adopting a ‘digital-first, rather than digital-only’ approach to how we deliver care. This will ensure that everyone has a choice in how they interact and participate in managing their care journey,” the ICS notes. 

Some of the themes include working beyond geographical boundaries for those who require more specialised services, developing digital guides, multi-lingual solutions and information, which will be a huge driver in ensuring accessibility and usability of digital services for all users in the community, the ICS said. 

“When putting residents first, we need to equip and enable our teams and partners with tools that enable them to work more effectively and strengthen the partnership between people and technology,” the document states. “We will be providing services for teams that are easy to use, valuable and impactful. We want digital devices to help make health and care both safer and easier and reduce digital friction.”

Sharing a future aim to move more of the ICS’s key data and applications to a secure cloud-based model, the strategy notes the positive impact on staff, as it will support them in accessing data and applications “wherever and whenever they need to”.

Nurturing new skills is essential in order to use data effectively, as the ICS states: “We recognise that transformation is not fundamentally about technology. It is about people and supporting our teams and residents in adopting innovations and new ways of working.” As such, BLMK will provide training and ongoing support to ensure teams are confident in using data and digital services across the ICS.

Digital as an enabler

The strategy highlights BLMK’s intention to develop a fully integrated shared health and care record by March 2023. More information has since been made available on the ICS’s website. The NHS App will be a central point of access for BLMK residents to manage their healthcare, with a view for patients to be able to contact their GP, manage appointments and access their health records by 2025.

Data flow and connectivity is another central component of the strategy, which will involve expanding the infrastructure to “support connectivity and integration.” The ICs aims to ensure networks remain current and flexibly joined up whilst maintaining the highest level of security. Moving towards system-wide consolidation is another objective which will allow BLMK partners to combine investments in digital products and services – helping to standardise their digital offerings around the services which support good practice.

The strategy also states that data and cyber security will “remain a priority across our ICS to provide assurance and confidence to our residents and teams.”

On the subject of community diagnostic centres and hubs, the ICS writes: “Early diagnosis is widely seen as a key enabler for improving health outcomes for residents and we are committed to bringing care closer to the community by connecting Community and Diagnostic Hubs to all the partners within our healthcare system.”

Additionally, the ICS will look to reduce administration workloads through intelligent automation technologies and integration tools which will enable the workforce to focus more on care and improved care outcomes.

Digitisation of all home care records will be fully realised by 2024 following the establishment of the Digital Social Care Programme. The programme allows patients to view their health and care records, provide updates and contribute to their care plan and access a range of information which will also enable care recipients and unpaid carers to be involved.

Putting data at the heart of decision-making

“Taking a digital approach across the ICS makes a fundamental difference to how we work together as partners to ensure our residents receive the optimal level of joined-up care available,” comments Clare Steward, the ICS’s programme director.

BLMK emphasises the importance of patients having access to accurate, consistent, complete, timely and comprehensive information, to support improved and consistently better outcomes.

By joining up data across partnerships into a single care record, this will facilitate a broader collaborative discussion on how to improve efficiency and quality of care for both residents and teams.

The ICS will combine local data with national population health management information to “design a better health and care system for our ICS.”

Using data ethically and altruistically is a firm priority of the ICS and they will ensure their approach to data ethics evolves alongside the Digital Ethics Charter and the BLMK commitment to Ethical Practice.

Personalised care

In this section, the strategy explains that they will use emerging technologies and insights gained to better understand and improve healthcare outcomes for patients. Artificial intelligence and personalised health plans will be increasingly integrated to help with diagnostic support and to optimise services.

Focusing on remote care and connected devices, the ICS will look to support independent living by expanding remote monitoring solutions. It is hoped that these will provide more accessible route for residents to “proactively engage with health and care professionals” and where appropriate, will be implemented in care homes or other domiciliary settings, allowing monitoring to take place closer to home.

Remote technologies will also enable the implementation of virtual wards, helping to reduce unnecessary hospital admissions and allowing clinicians and healthcare providers to make quicker judgments on patient’s individual need, the ICS said. 

Supporting collaboration and innovation

Looking ahead, the ICS aims to collaborate with academic science networks, universities, the local government association and others to evaluate emerging models of care and technologies which may be applicable within the ICS.

They will consider the potential of trusted research environments to enable collaborative research using the FAIR data principles (Findable, Accessible, Interoperable and Reusable), and collectively adopt national data standards to facilitate interoperability across teams and residents.

Alongside partners, BLMK will regularly evaluate and implement new technologies such as telemedicine, AI, acoustic monitoring and machine learning to ensure a flexible and contemporary attitude towards new healthcare tools and platforms.

Sharing what works and learning from others

The strategy then moves on to summarise the culture of sharing within the ICS, which underpins the digital strategy as a whole.

It states: “As part of the deployment of our digital strategy, we will identify best practice, share what we learn with each other, and with other ICSs… We will seek to enable our teams to collaborate more effectively by standardising processes and rationalising applications where appropriate.”

We recently interviewed Felicity Cox, chief executive of BLMK ICB, here.

For more information on BLMK’s digital strategy, please click here.