Digitising the NHS for the future, and the new Digital Academies

As the march towards digital transformation continues, the need to embrace and harness the power of technology could not be more evident. The NHS, ever moving and always under considerable pressure, presents huge demands of digitisation. Technology continually evolves to bring us new solutions, and with that comes a heightened need for skill enhancement. Training providers are already on board across the private sector, engaging with organisations in their need for new learning methods. It could be said that the public sector lags behind on this when, if anything, it should be at the forefront with the greatest need for the support technology can bring.

A recent review within the NHS has highlighted a need for an increase in investment for training in technology, as well as the growing need for digitisation. A fund of £4.2 billion has been set aside for the project. For the service to maintain the highest standards in patient care, a new vision is necessary to future-proof the service. The review—carried out by Bob Wachter, a well-respected US clinician—has prompted Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary, to announce the introduction to the service of 12 digital academies.

These 12 academies will be responsible for training 300 “digital leaders” through a part-time 12-month course, enabling each average sized NHS trust to have at least 5 highly trained IT experts in place by 2020/21. As the department of Health puts it, the training will need to ensure that the participants are in place “to lead and set strategy for digital and ehealth innovation across the health system from large-scale health IT systems… to personal health and wellness devices”. As well as these vital extra skills, leaders will be required to have a stronger understanding of data and how it can be used to improve and enhance clinical decision making.

This path towards digital maturity in health services presents many opportunities and benefits for both patients and clinical staff. Funding will be made available to link all NHS trusts into one single network, which will enable better sharing of training, resources and data. While it seems strange that this network is not yet in place, Wachter’s review places this at the heart of the new Digital Academies. The review also highlights several key issues in the project.

The three right reasons to digitise

This is not digitisation simply as a box ticking exercise. It must be aimed at promoting the Service’s Triple aim: better healthcare, better health and lower cost. These aims were identified in the NHS Five Year review of 2014 and attempting to meet them without digitisation would be seen as an extremely costly mistake.

Better to do it right than to do it too quickly

While the urgency to digitise is clear, there is an inherent risk in moving too quickly. A balance is needed. Trusts must be supported in their move to digital maturity and training needs, and encouraged to make the move when the time is right.

Connected access for all

A national standard for data sharing and interoperability should be built into the digitisation process, and training should be targeted towards this aim. As well as connecting the network together for this, there is a drive to give all patients full access to their electronic data, including clinician notes. There is a fine balance between this access to data and the need for patient privacy. Building elements such as opt-outs and consent into the framework would help achieve the right balance. This is one of the key areas which training should address at all times.

Training for digitised growth and maturity

The move to a digitised Health Service should be seen as the beginning of a process, and not the end. Such a system would need to evolve and grow in constant flux so both workforce and leadership should be appropriately trained for this development.

So as the NHS moves toward digitisation, the structure provided by this investment and the new Digital Academies is more than necessary. In a sector that can never stand still, the need for training in the face of technological development and digitisation has never been so evident. Our new digital world moves quickly. The demands of the NHS are great and varied, but the opportunities to address the service’s Triple Aim of better health, better healthcare and lower cost are there and, with them, the need for effective training for that new digital world.

Written by: Persia Shahkarami

Published: 7 Jun, 2017