Right care, right innovative technologies: why digital innovation matters in the health and care sector

Public Policy Projects in their latest report, State of the Nation: Digitisation and Medical Technologies calls on the Government to place digital innovation at the core of its new reforms published in its White Paper last week. The report has been produced in partnership with Novartis, Cerner, Cloudgateway, Siemens Healthineers, Nourish Care and VitalityHealth. It was launched on 16 February 2021 at an online event with speeches from Sarah Wilkinson, Chief Executive of NHS Digital, Lord James Bethell, Minister for Innovation at the Department of Health and Social Care and Dr Hardeep Sood, Co-founder of NHS Digital Academy and Health Education England board member. 

The report describes the state of digital services in the NHS and puts forward a set of recommendations that will enable both the NHS and social care to build on digital enabled transformation. It reflects on the impact of Covid-19 on the use of digital technology in the NHS explaining that healthcare reform “must build on the momentum generated by the pandemic to ensure digitally enabled solutions are sustained in the long-term”. But even before the Covid-19 pandemic, the drive to better use technology had already taken centre stage with the Department of Health and Social Care in its NHS Long Term Plan identifying the crucial role that the digital transformation of healthcare would play in meeting the health demands of the 21st century.

The State of Nation report arrives at a pivotal point for the NHS as we move towards the new Integrated Care Systems which will need to look at how they harnesses the transformative opportunities provided by digital and data enabled health and care. It recognises that digitisation of health and care covers a broad and complex landscape from healthcare provider IT to technologies that support improvements to population health.

In terms of Integrated Care System leadership, the report calls for it to share positive experience of digital innovation (at a local level) with other systems to stimulate more widespread adoption of evidenced best practice and for a commitment to ensure Chief Information Officers and Chief Clinical Information Officers are represented at board level.

The report seeks to map out this landscape, identify the opportunities and areas for further development – and in this context, it makes a series of 12 policy recommendations.

Recommendations

The recommendations are addressed to the Department and the Secretary of State, NHS England/Improvement, NHS Digital, NHSX, Integrated Care Systems, Health Education England and other arm’s length bodies in health and care. But they are also relevant for health and care providers, healthcare professionals, social care professionals and patients.

  • Placing digital innovation at the heart of healthcare reform
  • Empowering patients to become informed co-creators of their own health
  • Implementing a prevention-first approach
  • Legislating for better data access, interoperability and protection
  • Reviewing effective digital solutions used during the pandemic
  • Mapping the role of digital in the patient pathway
  • Funding digital enabled transformation to level-up services
  • Unleashing the potential of personal health data
  • Promoting a diverse and digital centric leadership
  • Putting data at the centre of decision-making
  • Reinforcing a culture of innovation and collaboration
  • Implementing learnings to develop digital skills

As part of its flotilla of recommendations, the report calls for a review of current data frameworks to inform the forthcoming Data Strategy for Health and Social Care. The White Paper (described as an “additional catalyst”) mentions this strategy explaining that it will set out a range of proposals to address cultural, behavioural and legislative barriers to data sharing and a more flexible legislative framework to improve data access and interoperability. The requirement for the safe sharing of data in support of individual care and population health is key as the health service transitions towards a population health-based approach focused around Integrated Care Systems, the prioritisation of digital is essential. The report also looks at how digitisation will require a clear funding model and how a stronger regulatory framework is needed to maintain high levels of quality and safety.

Interesting points made by the speakers yesterday included:

  • We need to use the forthcoming legislation to remove transactional bureaucracy which makes decision-making harder.
  • Public trust / a dialogue with the public is needed.
  • Accountability and responsibility must be clear.
  • We need to build on the relationship with medtech.
  • Adoption of innovation should be business as usual.
  • Digital transformation needs to be woven into the fabric of frontline care, so we reimagine what care could look like in the future and lay the foundations to rethink care rather than just digitising what we do.
  • Digital transformation will be the glue between distinct and separate parts of care.

So exciting times ahead! We have a large team of expert lawyers in the field of digital health who have worked for both public and private sector organisations progressing this agenda. Please do not hesitate to get in touch.

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