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05.12.18

Technology first

Source: NHE Nov/Dec 2018

With the latest policy document from the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) heralding a new ‘technology-first’ ethos for the NHS, Lee Edwards, IT director at NHS Shared Business Services (NHS SBS), discusses why this must include investment in intuitive technologies for NHS employees.

An IT overhaul of the NHS is long overdue, and while patient-facing innovations – such as ‘smart’ health monitoring systems and remote GP appointments – have the potential to be transformative, it is crucial that similar attention is given to the introduction of new technology across NHS corporate services. Implementing modern digital systems here supports the smooth running of our hospitals and the delivery of world-class patient care.   

In all cases, the focus must be on tech that ‘makes sense’ to the NHS workforce. Without their enthusiastic buy-in, any NHS IT project is doomed to fail. Indeed, just as the best care is patient-centred, the best systems should be employee-centred. The basic principles should be that no intensive training is required and that technology is intuitive.

At the most straightforward level, it needs to make life easier for NHS employees and free them up for frontline care. For example, we recently developed and launched a free employee-facing mobile app – designed in partnership with staff at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital NHS FT – that makes it easy for employees to view and manage their pay information online. MySBSPay is currently available to anybody employed by one of the 100 NHS organisations that use our payroll service (around 400,000 employees). The key features include access to historic and current payslips and P60s, pay-related support via interactive chatbot technology, a ‘payday countdown,’ and access to thousands of NHS employee discount offers.

An example of how this app alone could prove to be transformative for the NHS is by looking at the potential for valuable time savings. If each person, in an average trust of 3,000 staff, spends just 30 minutes on the phone to us per year discussing payroll issues, using the app instead could save that trust the equivalent of one nurse in time alone. Multiply that across the NHS SBS payroll service and this equates to 100 nurses. This is a crude calculation, of course, but it does give an indication of what is possible.

And the benefit of technology is not just its potential to make day-to-day processes more efficient, but also in the vast amounts of data it produces; even patient-facing tech can help inform back-office processes. A good example of this is our PHBChoices model, which enables personal health budget holders to purchase products and services using an online account and virtual budget. For NHS commissioners, there is far better financial oversight and significant cash savings to be realised. The considerable data being generated, meanwhile, can be used to spot demographic trends and inform future forecasting.

Alongside cloud and mobile solutions, the rapid advance of artificial intelligence technologies – such as robotic process automation, machine learning, natural language processing, and predictive analytics – is allowing organisations to realise improvements and efficiencies in everything from back-office processing and spend diagnostics to frontline customer service. At NHS SBS, we are already seeing the benefits of our investment in these areas and, through the creation of digital innovation hubs, we are able to help other NHS organisations realise the transformative potential these new digital technologies can bring.

The new emphasis on harnessing the potential of tech across all areas of the NHS is undoubtedly very welcome. By focusing on driving open architecture standards and the use of published Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) – rather than mandating specific technology solutions – the NHS digital policy paper provides a level of flexibility for individual organisations, and brings the right mix of technology innovation, individualisation, and that all-important interoperability.

But the greatest NHS tech projects will only ever get the best results if the ultimate end goal – empowering employees to provide the best possible patient care – is at the heart of every investment.

 

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