It’s been a tough few weeks for the NHS, criticised over its legacy IT systems, alleged weakness to cyber-attacks and constantly under scrutiny for its spending and investment decisions. Yet, even with these high profile challenges in mind, no-one can deny it’s one of the UK’s most treasured and relied-on organisations. Our National Health Service plays a vital role in the nation’s health by providing free critical care to all regardless of background or income, even though its doctors and nurses face major budget and resourcing constraints each and every day.
The organisation is under major pressure to improve the quality of its services and financial management, even against a backdrop of financial constraints. Even with stretched budgets and challenging economic conditions, the NHS must make further investments in digital transformation programmes in order to deliver a fully rounded quality patient service and cut growing costs.
A House of Lords committee recently backed the Government to make technology uptake an ‘urgent priority’. As an organisation delivering vital services on a national scale, the NHS has already seen pockets of benefits from investments in bold initiatives to improve diagnoses and treatments, such as big data analytics, artificial intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT). However, the pace of IT adoption across the health service has varied from trust to trust, and even across departments within trusts, which means achieving consistency across the country has long been a challenge.
With that in mind, this feature will investigate how the NHS can improve patient care through technology without compromising its values as an organisation that’s free and open to all. Additionally, I’ll take a look at what a truly digital NHS could look like and how this would improve patient services in terms of accessibility, availability and engagement with treatment plans and wider services.
There are already ambitious plans in place for improving the NHS through the use of smarter IT and increased access to technology. The government has also initiated its policy to make the service ‘paperless’ by 2020, ensuring all documents are digital to improve the flow and consistency of patient information.
It was also recently announced that the NHS was investing in a new AI-powered ‘chat-bot’ service to provide support and information for mothers. This interactive resource will provide 24/7 access to approved guidance around breastfeeding, reducing the time spent on phone lines and relieving pressure on the health service, whilst ensuring mothers are given the information they need.
As some of you may already know, the first few months of parenting are typically awash with anxiety, late night trips to the hospital or frantic phone calls asking for advice and guidance. This rush for information – from breastfeeding advice to treating colic – is never ending and can require 24-hour support.
Of course, nobody wants to be making regular trips to the local hospital, so this chat-bot service provides a digital-first solution with advice, guidance and reassurance at a user’s fingertips. This new service provides cost-effective around the clock support, while also preventing unnecessary hospital visits and reducing waiting times on inbound calls into the NHS helplines.
Recent research from Nuance also revealed that nearly half of NHS Trusts (43%) are investing in artificial intelligence (AI) technology, to enable patients to ‘self-help’ when accessing services. This new data, obtained under the Freedom of Information (FoI) Act, revealed that many NHS Trusts are considering harnessing technology – such as virtual assistants, speech recognition technology and chat-bots – to ease the pressure on healthcare workers across their organisations.
The research also revealed a developing approach to mobility. Nearly half (47%) of trusts now permit staff to work ‘on the go’ using mobile devices to more efficiently complete tasks such as developing patient records, saving those working in the community valuable travel time and expense.
AI and chat-bots are clearly the latest buzzwords in the technology industry, but for the NHS, the power of these technologies could mean much more than just implementing ‘gimmicky’ new tools at a reduced cost. This technology has the potential to transform the wider NHS, supporting patients to self-help, as well as helping doctors with suggested diagnoses or long-term care proposals.
We are in an age in which citizens, customers and patients are all seeking the ability to self-help, to self-diagnose and to self-determine. Our NHS can meet these objectives by investing in intelligent technology that not only saves doctors, nurses and healthcare professionals vital time, but that also truly puts patients in the driving seat when considering their health and overall wellbeing.
Frederik Brabant, MD, Chief Medical Information Officer at Nuance