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NHS Needs Better Vision Of Digital Patients

Is a focus on niche technology rather than a more integrated view of the digital patient holding back the modernization of the U.K.'s socialized health system?

 7 Portals Powering Patient Engagement
7 Portals Powering Patient Engagement
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Back in mid-March, U.K. Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said that what the country's National Health Service needed was more tech-led innovation.

But what is the best way to use science and technology to "transform healthcare," as Hunt urged? Is it developing specific health informatics solutions, like mobile apps or electronic health records even telecare/telehealth services? Or is a better approach to develop a more integrated overall digital healthcare strategy?

That's the suggestion of at least one U.K. health informatics vendor, Yorkshire-based InHealthcare, a provider to NHS customers of managed services that includes digital health solutions for remote clinical monitoring.

[ Would a national patient ID system help? Read National Patient ID System: Debate Stoked ]

The missing element from too many of NHS' technology efforts is this idea of trying to develop a more holistic electronic view of patients, according to Richard Quine, divisional product director for telehealth. "One of the things that we noticed at the [Healthcare Innovation Expo] was the large number of standalone [healthcare] apps that were not integrated as part of a patient's digital care pathway and their [own] EHR," he said in an interview with InformationWeek.

For digital health to be successful in the NHS, it must be "affordable, patient centric and integrated with standard care pathways," he said. In other words, it should be a "normal part of caring for someone in the community," he added, and provide nursing teams with precise, up-to-date information about their patients, allowing them to offer the best possible care, wherever they are working with patients.

Citing one example, Quine points to the company's recent engagement with County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust, which demonstrated its new "Health Call" digital healthcare service at the Expo several weeks ago.

The goal is to combine a number of automated and digitized clinical treatment services, including self-testing for blood-clotting and a community-based nutritional screening service, into one combined telehealth service for 10,000 of its patients. Its tech partner is offering a delivery platform to deliver Health Call on that it said adheres to the N3 common NHS shared broadband communications network.

The Trust acknowledged that compiling a number of digitally supported services does make sense, but said that they have to be future-proofed by being based on interoperable standards. "Like many other NHS organizations, we've carried out pilots on telehealth, using multiple hubs to evaluate benefits," said Jane Haywood, clinical director for adults and integrated services and program manager at the North Eastern NHS body.

But "we quickly realized we needed to be not just more flexible but, more importantly, we needed standardization across the whole health economy," Haywood said. By working with its new N3-based standard, its teams can now focus on clinical and patient outcomes so as to "pick and choose the right devices to deliver the right outcomes."

For Quine, innovations like telehealth can and will come for British NHS users -- but only if the emphasis shifts from a focus on long-term care to incorporating it in the day to day running of hospitals, clinics and other patient contact points.

That way, he said, "We'll get to not just telecare but true digital-based patient care."

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