Healthcare funding has been under pressure since the recession. Providing free universal healthcare in the UK costs over £115 billion annually and creates employment for 1.8 million people. Since 2012, reforms and new initiatives have been driving forward new efficiencies and lower costs.
A dire funding shortfall looms in the next few years. Consequently, the government is hoping to achieve £22 billion worth of efficiency savings by 2020/21. Technology is playing a key role in the transformation of the NHS into a leaner, more efficient organisation. According to the Five Year Forward View, published in 2014, “we will raise our game on health technology – radically improving patients’ experience of interacting with the NHS.”
With a funding shortfall looming, public and private healthcare providers in the UK, including those who deliver technology solutions for the NHS, are already taking action. Many of these reforms are being implemented across 50 Vanguards, as part of the Five Year Forward View. The aim is to deliver a new working blueprint for healthcare in the UK; one that has been tested in practice. There are many ways technology and improved IT efficiency can make this a reality. Let’s explore a few in this article.
#1: Supported self-care
Saving money and serving the public more effectively can happen simultaneously. One way is through the delivery of self-care services. Making it easier for healthcare customers – the public – to access medical knowledge that would reduce the impact on primary and secondary care options. The NHS has already taken great strides in this area since more people than ever are using Google to “diagnose” illnesses.
With apps, mobile-friendly content, interactive content and Live Chat facilities, it has become easier to deliver self-care to patients providing primary-level support, whilst reducing the burden on GP surgeries.
#2: Local IT outsourcing
National, top-down IT services fail too often or end up costing too much, thanks to an unnecessarily complicated one-size-fits-all approach, with the National Programme for IT a case in point. Instead, empowering healthcare providers to source the most cost effective IT solutions for their needs means they will receive a tailored, efficient service from vendors.
NHS services will also benefit from an external perspective. Although doctors surgeries and hospitals have more restrictions than small and medium businesses, many challenges, like increasing efficiencies are the same. With the right strategy and IT provider, these efficiencies can be unlocked and implemented.
#3: Managed services
Managed services make it easier for an organisation to cope with an evolving technology ecosystem. From a 24/7 IT service desk to data recovery and continuity systems, working within a managed services contract means a flexible approach would ensure that internal IT staff can focus on top-level strategies and solutions.
#4: Shared services
Cloud solutions and data centres have made it easier for the NHS to benefit from shared IT services. NHS Shared Business Services (NHS SBS), a joint venture, between the Department of Health and Sopra Steria Group, is used by one-third of NHS trusts and is already responsible for generating £400 million in savings. There need to be more examples of these solutions, implemented quickly, for the NHS to increase efficiencies from shared services.
#5: Putting prevention first
Preventative healthcare would save the country billions. Drinking, smoking, unhealthy diets, drugs and sugar are responsible for rising healthcare costs. Tragically, this problem was known over fourteen years ago. According to the Five Year Forward View: “Derek Wanless’ health review warned that unless the country took prevention seriously we would be faced with a sharply rising burden of avoidable illness. That warning has not been heeded – and the NHS is on the hook for the consequences.”
Preventative care means working with the public to improve lifestyle choices. Digital technology, through apps, social networks and online support groups could play a key role in taking preventative action against some of the most serious threats to our national health. Here is an example from the American Heart Association: My Cardiac Coach, an app that helps heart disease patients make better lifestyle choices when they are recovering from a heart attack.
Technology has the power to transform how the NHS and healthcare providers can prevent illnesses and treat patients. The strategy is already in place. Working with IT providers, the NHS can implement solutions that improve efficiencies and support patients, whilst reducing the budgetary pressure on trusts, doctors surgeries and provider organisations.