Healthcare provision has become an easy target for criticism. An emotive subject, everyone has an experience, a story, an opinion to share. Whether your experience is good or bad, the fact remains that the provision of healthcare is creaking at the seams, under huge pressure from funding cuts, ageing demographics, increasing populations and skills shortages.
Many of us base our experience on ‘front of house’ services, from doctors’ receptionists, to GPs, to specialist consultants and outpatient clinics, but behind-the-scenes there are some fascinating developments, mostly thanks to technology advancements. These have been brought in to keep the cogs of the health service running smoothly. Based on the need for absolute accuracy and precision, many of these developments are generated by the drive to digital: text appointment reminders are commonplace, reducing costs arising from missed appointments; and digital records are transferred between departments in seconds, speeding up service times.
Prescriptions, too, are now sent directly to pharmacies by GPs, a move welcomed by Tim Kelsey, NHS England’s national director for patients and information: “Patients are put at risk where paper is the currency of clinical practice”, says Kelsey, saying that medication errors are reduced by 50% with electronic prescribing systems2.
Dig a bit deeper behind-the-scenes of healthcare providers and you’ll find technology driving efficiencies in tasks you may never even have considered, but which are absolutely crucial to the provision of effective healthcare services. What about the movement of specialist medical equipment and supplies around a hospital? Or managing the receipt and delivery of time-critical packages such as blood stock or medical supplies? Or securing and managing the distribution and storage of Oxygen and gas canisters? Again, accuracy and precision is critical, with no margin for error. And again, technology is minimising risk here behind-the-scenes, refining processes and creating operational excellence as healthcare providers move from paper-based receipt and delivery notes to integrated, advanced software platforms.
The focus on accuracy through a drive to digital is more prominent than ever for healthcare providers. Recently, healthcare CEOs have been invited to complete a self-assessment to identify their capabilities, infrastructure and readiness, to become ‘paperless’. It is the ideal chance to identify any barriers to change, says NHS England. Beverley Bryant, NHS England’s director for digital technology has said that “The digital maturity self-assessment is the perfect opportunity for providers to shine a light on any obstacles they are facing in modernising services and make the case for additional support to move past these challenges.” It will enable NHS England to compile a digital maturity index3.
So, whilst we, quite justifiably, base our perception of the healthcare industry on the ‘front of house’ service experience we receive, I can’t help but wonder if we should spend some time understanding more about the digital transformation across the inner workings of the industry. Then, we would see the seismic shifts which are taking place every day as new software platforms are rolled out, systems brought in and staff trained, to reach the optimum levels of precision and accuracy demanded by the industry and its patients.