6 Key issues holding back the digital transformation of the NHS
Digital transformation is a foundational change in how organisations operate; from fundamental day-to-day business processes, to staffing culture and the end-to-end customer experiences. Whilst it can be logistical challenge, it can lead to organisations being more agile, efficient and responsive to market and business needs.
The NHS is currently in the midst of its own digital transformation process by overhauling its technology and processes across the entire organisation – no small task! It’s ultimate goal? To help health and care professionals communicate more effectively and enable people to access the care they need quickly and easily, when it suits them. This will be done using a mix of digital technology (website applications and computer systems, for example) and big data – allowing NHS trusts to coordinate their services more effectively, and continue to deliver exceptional levels of patient care both now and into the future.
Whilst the end-result of the digital transformation process will undoubtedly lead to all NHS trusts working a lot smarter, many trusts are already encountering huge challenges that are making the process extremely difficult. In fact, the problems many trusts are facing are potentially the biggest barrier to success of the NHS’s 2019 Long Term Plan to make the organisation self-sustaining and self-sufficient over the course of the next ten years.
Digital technology should help support trusts through a collective need to improve quality, secure better joined-up services, provide value for money through economies of scale, reduce overlaps and eliminate wastage – but the realities at the moment are somewhat very different…
So, what are the 6 key issues hospitals and trusts are facing and holding back the digital transformation of the NHS
1. Lack of platform interoperability
Virtually all NHS trusts rely on a workforce solutions platform to manage their permanent and contingency staff. However, many of these solutions simply don’t integrate with each other; meaning trusts end up paying to use multiple incompatible platforms to manage their workforce across all staffing groups.
Digital workforce platforms are only ever the solution if it actually makes day-to-day processes easier, lesser time consuming and more efficient. So, trusts having to rely on multiple staffing platforms, all with their own procedures and idiosyncrasies is perhaps one of the biggest barriers to achieving the transformation the NHS desperately wants to achieve.
2. Commoditising of healthcare workers
Yes, technology that’s cutting edge and delivers on all its technical promises is no bad thing! But with many of the technology-only solutions that NHS trusts rely on for their workforce solutions, the human factor – so crucial to positive working environments – can be easily forgotten.
Many technological solutions see healthcare workers are treated as commodities rather than valued, dedicated professionals; just a name on a spreadsheet or a profession on a work planner. If NHS trusts are to achieve the digital transformation they really desire, they need to ensure the technology they introduce allows them to truly engage with both their contingent and permanent staff on their terms – building positive cultures and healthy working environments they truly feel part of.
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3. Inexperienced providers
There are plenty of workforce platform providers out there who will certainly provide you with competent and proven workforce management software. However, in most cases, that’s all they’ll provide – and it’ll certainly not be tailored for the specific needs of NHS trusts.
Many trusts at the moment rely on app-based generic workforce platforms, offering little or no human expertise in healthcare workforce management and supply. This is critical; as it can’t be expected that hospitals and medical professionals have an instant and thorough knowledge of the platforms they rely on – they’ve got patients and duties to take care of! This is where they need an experienced and trusted partner they can rely on to get the best out of their workforce solutions.
4. Poor user engagement
Following on from the inexperienced level of provision, it’s also the case that with so many overlapping solutions being used, staff can simply be bamboozled by the lack of operating continuity across different systems.
Whilst the general function of many workforce platforms are similar, how they do it and how users use them can be wildly different. This can lead to information not being easily accessible or, worse still, processes being duplicated or even missed entirely. It’s also the case that many of the current workforce solutions still rely on paper-based processes; such as timesheeting. Not only is this an outdated and outmoded way of managing a workforce, it’s also not particularly secure from a data-protection point of view.
5. Poor governance standards
Many solutions used by NHS trusts simply don’t offer a continuous compliance or governance service; meaning untold on-site staff hours are lost to checking and validating staff credentials and qualifications.
If the digital transformation of the NHS is to be successful, it needs to take into account that NHS staff needs robust support with the paperwork and administration-side of healthcare recruitment – and all within the comprehensive current and existing NHS frameworks. That way, hospitals can build genuine trust with their suppliers, and have confidence in the quality of staff they provide.
6. Weak security standards
Lastly, with so much intensely private and confidential information being handled every day, digital security cannot be overlooked. But the simple fact of the matter is that many of the current platforms only really see security as an afterthought – implementing low level certification and putting confidential personal data at high risk as a result.
For the digital transformation of the NHS to truly be successful, trusts have to take into account that the general public are extremely data-savvy in today’s always-online world. The security of their data should be treated as a priority and a must-have feature; not just a box-ticking exercise.
Of course, digital transformation is only one part of the NHS’s journey to become financially sustainable and fit to meet the needs of a local population whilst recognising national directives outlined in the NHS Long Term Plan and NHS People Plan.
Looking beyond the digitisation of services, there is a wider programme of change that will transform the way trusts are designing and delivering care – and this starts with identifying initiatives that demonstrate value and impacts on quality, safety, efficiency and performance.