Simon Stevens Wrestling with NHS Digital Future

Health leaders have been encouraged to invest in the digital future of the NHS, as the health service continues to struggle with a mismatch between resources and demand.

And with this in mind, Simon Stevens, chief executive of the NHS in England, has imagined and begun to outline a future in which digital interaction between patients and the NHS is a common occurrence.

Stevens states that those currently in their teens, 20s and 30s will eventually book appointments digitally on a regular basis.

“The idea of booking appointments and physically turning up to GP surgeries for routine things [will become] an alien concept,” Stevens asserted.

There is certainly already a push within the health service to embrace technology, yet the gargantuan nature of the NHS sometimes means that such innovation is difficult to achieve.

One of the particularly difficult logistical problems for the NHS is that there is something of a productivity paradox inherent in digitalisation.

While introducing a new technology can ultimately result in a rise in output, they can be a delay between this being realised during which the investment appears to be a waste of money.

One of the foremost articulators of this paradox has been professor Robert Wachter; interim chairman of the department of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco.

Wachter recently told a summit organised by the Nuffield Trust that employees tended to have a vested interest in continuing the old ways of working.

“[Staff are] just not very good at envisioning fundamental changes in the way they work”, Wachter asserted, before citing a quotation often attributed to Henry Ford. “If I’d asked people what they wanted, they would have said ‘faster horses’.”

Considering his prominent position in healthcare technology, Wachter has been recruited by the NHS to lead a review of computer systems across the health service for NHS England.

This is intended to enable the professor to both advise and tap into the expertise of existing employees.

With the NHS looking to greatly shift its operations in the coming years, pioneering individuals within the health service are particularly important.

One such pioneer is Bridget Fletcher, chief executive of Airedale Hospital in West Yorkshire, who has placed her institution at the forefront of so-called “telemedicine”.

While Yeovil District Hospital has worked out which patients were imposing the biggest strains on the local health system via computing.

They concluded that just 4 per cent of local people were consuming up to 50 per cent of the health and social care budget.

Hospital boss Paul Mears commented that despite the efforts of Yeovil, other institutions in the health service have been hesitant to implement technology successfully.

“You look at other industries nowadays, how they use technology to integrate and interface with their customers: we’re still quite a long way behind that in the NHS in terms of the way we operate and the way we interact with patients.”

As the NHS is challenged in the coming years, there will be increasing pressure on health service bosses to implement a digital revolution to make the NHS work better.


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