For our latest industry view, we asked four representatives from integrated care systems for their thoughts on the digital priorities in their region – and what they are looking forward to in the future with regards to digital in health.
Osman Bhatti, GP and chief clinical information officer at North East London Health and Care Partnership, said that the digital focus for his ICS is “not always exciting, but the priorities that support our workforce – reinforcing the basics”.
That includes “getting the hardware infrastructure and support in place for systems to run quickly, building cross-organisational and remote working within our PCNs, building on dashboards and analytics and the migration over to EMIS-X”, which he called “a long-awaited development that will support 64 bit architecture and be more stable than the current system”.
As for what he is most excited about, Osman said: “The future of digital health is full of possibilities – but costly and requires careful governance and review of the potential risks. But if we can overcome those hurdles or mitigate for them, then I’m excited about machine learning to support individualised personal care for patients and their clinicians and to support identification of disease areas early, such as retinal screenings and x-rays”.
Other areas Osman highlighted include remote flexible working to allow increase within the workforce; genetic mapping of susceptibility to conditions or response to drugs; and better evidence-based interventions.
He concluded: “Fundamentally, whatever the future, the gold standard will remain as a personalised face-to-face emphatic human-connected consultation.”
Richard Greaves, head of digital transformation at NHS Somerset’s directorate of strategy, digital and integration, shared his own views. In terms of the digital areas NHS Somerset will be prioritising, he said: “Empowering integration neighbourhood teams with the right information to the right team at the right time, to support the person; and population health, in particular supporting people with hypertension and investing in the data infrastructure to enable other population health initiatives as a region.”
Richard explained that his ICS will also be prioritising “enhancing our Somerset integrated digital electronic record to meet the national MVS 2.0 standards; supporting in-slight programmes of work such as online consultation, virtual wards and remote monitoring; use of artificial intelligence to predict a person’s need for emergency care and intervene ahead of this happening in primary care settings; investment in electronic health records across a number of settings including acute, community, mental health, hospice and care homes; and enhancements and promotion of the NHS App.”
With regards to what Richard is excited about for the future of digital health within NHS Somerset, he said: “Empowering people to play an active part in their health and care journey, through self-management, self-care and prevention measures, to see how this makes a difference to services and demand.”
Andrew Fearn, chief digital officer for Nottingham and Nottinghamshire Integrated Care Board, commented that there are five main digital priorities in place for his ICS, “including public-facing digital services; frontline digitisation and interoperability (a Shared Care Record). All are underpinned by the use of data to support intelligent decision making and embedding the importance of digital inclusion, for both our patients and workforce.
“Our digital priorities are closely aligned to clinical priorities to support our local health needs. A key focus will be enabling our patients to take more control of their health and wellbeing. Through the use of the NHS App and a fully integrated PHR and PEP, our patients will have a personalised and person-centred approach to their care across the ICS.”
In addition, Andrew said, the reduction of health inequalities is a “major focus, and we know that improving digital inclusion will help to support the delivery of more equitable care.
“At the same time, we need to ensure our workforce and partner organisations can access effective and efficient digital assets and infrastructure. We want to enable them to provide the best health and care services, and have the digital skills and confidence, to maximise the benefits digital can deliver.”
On what he looks forward to seeing in the future for his ICS, Andrew said that “the power of digital to transform our NHS and significantly change the way health and care is delivered is hugely exciting.”
He added: “The opportunities that are opened up by scaling digital innovation are immense; from the use of AI to improve and speed up diagnostics; to optimising RPA; the use of wearables and technology enabled care.
“Integration of existing digital systems providing a consistent and holistic view of patient health and care will inevitably release time to care. Digital innovation will enable resources to be reused more effectively for preventative and proactive health care.”
For Northamptonshire Integrated Care Board, digital director Kirstie Watson shared that when integrated care systems across England undertook a digital maturity assessment earlier in the year, “our self-assessment identified that, at the time, Northamptonshire was behind our peers, with the lowest overall level of digital maturity.”
In terms of priorities, therefore, over the next 12 months Northamptonshire’s focus lies in “driving to turn that situation around, transforming health and care pathways supported by digital and data tools. Our strategy is to ensure that staff have access to the best digital tools and the right information to deliver the best and most consistent care possible across all our organisations.
“Integrated Care Northamptonshire has just gone live with the first phase of the Northamptonshire Care Record, a major milestone for this shared care record system enabling health and care teams instant access to the information that they need to provide care. This will be closely followed by our population health planning tool, the Northamptonshire Analytical Reporting Platform, providing joined-up data to inform research, planning and pathway redesign.”
In addition, with advancements in the technology and data available, Kirstie shared how Northamptonshire has recently implemented an ICS-wide Digital Skills Academy. “This provides fully-funded training for colleagues across health and social care via a suite of apprenticeships and other education, ensuring that our teams have the skills and capabilities they need to make efficient and effective use of the data they have available.
“We are also working to empower people to access their health data and manage their conditions via a single digital front door using the NHS App.”
What is Kirstie most excited about for the future of digital health within the ICS? “It’s exciting to see the leaps forward that Northamptonshire is making,” she said. “There is still much more to do, but the initiatives we are implementing will allow us to make the best use of data to redesign innovative health and care pathways, track outcomes and support data-driven decision-making.
“It feels like we are finally delivering digitally-enabled transformation and digitally-supported care, rather than digital being something separate from the core business of delivering the best health and care outcomes for our population.”
Many thanks to Osman, Richard, Andrew and Kirstie for sharing their thoughts.