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NHS faces a 'ticking time bomb' as it struggles to change attitudes towards technology

Joanne Makosinski

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

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NHS IT bosses are being urged to focus on changing staff attitudes, cutting back on paperwork and improving system sharing rather than putting all their efforts into data protection amid concerns they face a 'ticking time bomb' that will leave technology lagging behind health service reform.

A recently-published report from BCS, the chartered institute for IT, stresses the importance of health services preparing now to radically improve the overall use of information. 

It comes at a time when the Government has announced it is speeding up the dismantling of the beleaguered NHS National Programme for IT, which leaves individual trusts able to procure systems outside of the pan-England framework. 

The report is based on commissioned research from Mott McDonald and supports the recent Information Revolution consultation, demanding radical action to improve the use of data across the NHS. It is intended to help guide health organisations in preparing for information being mission critical to their services and will also help to inform the forthcoming NHS Information Strategy

" The NHS should be concentrating on providing added value to information and information systems, making them slicker and smarter; focusing on that which is perceived as valuable to people in their day-to-day lives, rather than what institutions or organisations do with data.

The research identifies that the desire among patients to control their health records is not as strong as their desire to access and contribute to the data held on them. It also highlights the fact that much of the information currently sitting in systems is not being used to maximum effect and calls for increased interoperability, interfacing and integration to make the most of what is already there. 

" Behaviour and confidence in how the NHS uses information needs fundamental modernisation and renewal.

Dr Justin Whatling, BCS’s vice chairman for health strategy and policy, said: “Of particular note was the greater interest in practical transactions that give immediate results; for example, providing simple tools or Apps to enable patients to book appointments, or to order repeat prescriptions.  

" There is a significant risk that both the NHS and the public will lack the capacity to process and make optimal use of information about health services.

“The NHS should be concentrating on providing added value to information and information systems, making them slicker and smarter; focusing on that which is perceived as valuable to people in their day-to-day lives, rather than what institutions or organisations do with data.” 

The report suggests that the greatest challenges to making the health system more information driven are cultural, social and behavioural, rather than technical. The top two consideration points are the organisational culture in the NHS and a perceived resistance towards sharing information. 

In contrast, and somewhat surprisingly, the healthcare workers and informaticians surveyed rated patient and public confidence in data and increased time demand on clinicians as much lower risks. Instead, the resistance and difficulties lie more with service structures and boundaries, financial flows and incentives, and consequent inter-organisational and cross-sector politics. Individuals and professionals within the health and social care system want to, and routinely do, share information, and patients and the public expect it. But, according to the report, they are too often constrained by traditional ways of working and organisational resistance to information sharing  

" Above all, we must encourage innovation and in so doing accept risk and allow failure as we push back the boundaries on information use.

Dr Whatling said: “The exposure and transparency of information offers the greatest opportunity for a care revolution, but we must prepare for it.  

“Behaviour and confidence in how the NHS uses information needs fundamental modernisation and renewal. There is a significant risk that both the NHS and the public will lack the capacity to process and make optimal use of information about health services. We must now develop our maturity and act courageously to develop the informatics profession; nurture and grow skills and capability across the entire workforce; share existing good practice; and take a sensible, appropriate and realistic approach to the application of standards. Above all, we must encourage innovation and in so doing accept risk and allow failure as we push back the boundaries on information use.”

Published with permission from HES

BCS

Click for the full report

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