Interoperability: What is it, and why is it so important to the NHS?
Interoperability seems to be something of the go-to buzzword in the world of healthcare workforce technology right now – and it’s easy to understand why.
The digital transformation of the NHS forms a critical part of the 2019 Long Term Plan, which outlines how the NHS must become fit for changing needs of the British population, but also become financially self-sustaining through cutting down costs associated with contingent and temporary recruitment.
To achieve this, many hospitals and NHS trusts are switching to digital workforce platforms to manage all aspects of their permanent, temporary and contingent staffing. This is of course no bad thing, as – on paper anyway – this gives them the power to manage every aspect of their workforce, without necessarily having to simply rely on a third party recruitment supplier to source and manage available and suitably-qualified healthcare professionals.
However, the reality is somewhat different – and this is where that all-important interoperability comes into play.
Too much choice?
As each NHS trust and hospital is different, their workforce needs will also vary wildly; especially if a trust provides a specialist service, or serves a population with very specific requirements. For example, the staffing requirements of the Freeman Hospital in Newcastle – famous for its high quality joint and hip replacement operations – will have different staffing needs to that of the Royal Marsden Hospital, who offer some of the highest quality cancer care in the country.
Because of this glorious individuality of trusts, many are free to choose what workforce solutions work best for them to ensure they have the right staff, at the right time, and at the right cost. But this is where things start to get a little messy.
When a trust chooses their own workforce solution, it’ll be based on specifically, what they need. However, this raises a problem; as one hospital’s workforce platform may be fundamentally different to another’s. And this could be in how the UX is built, how staff rosters are managed or even how staff supply their timesheets.
It’s not just the differences between trusts that can be a problem, either. Some trusts use different platforms for their staff banks, agency banks and roster – meaning that processes can be doubled or even tripled; increasing time-sapping back office processes and causing an admin headache when it comes to critical procedures such as governance or revalidations.
Interoperability: the golden bullet
So, on the one hand, the move to digitise the NHS’s processes and systems can mean the empowerment of each trust and its staffing requirements; but on the other, this can only be truly effective if it offers demonstrable efficiency and cost savings – rather than a logistical and administration headache.
If hospitals and trusts are to use individual workforce solutions, a key feature they should look for – above any other possibly – is interoperability.
A workforce solution that’s fully interoperable means that it can be deployed to work seamlessly with pre-existing systems – meaning that a trust’s workforce doesn’t need to spend endless hours adapting to a new way of working or lose out on crucial functionality. This can be done by operating an open API policy, as it allows easy access to for platforms to work with a multitude of different providers and without losing any potentially esoteric requirements specific to that hospital.
This type of accessibility also ensures trusts are always able to take advantage of the latest and best systems on the market. This enables to fulfil the needs of their individual requirements but also, most importantly, relax in the knowledge that it’ll be compatible with all current and existing NHS technology.
In short, interoperability isn’t just a fancy buzzword that should be tacked onto a list of ‘nice to haves’ for a trust looking for a new workforce solution: it’s actually critical to the digitisation of services for the NHS, and one that can empower NHS hospitals far beyond 2019’s Long Term Plan.