The NHS Has Opened a New Department Dedicated to Digital Technology



When it comes to patient experience, it can be tempting to become rather myopic and only look to those organizations close to home for inspiration. However, maybe our friends across the pond can teach us a thing or two as well.

The National Health Service (NHS) has long been one of the jewels in the crown of the UK. A free-at-the-point-of-use healthcare service, the NHS was set up to make sure that everyone, regardless of financial or social status, could get treatment for any illness without having to worry about insurance or a hefty bill. Thanks to the NHS, UK citizens pay a flat rate of eight pounds for a prescription and can get any number of tests and doctor visits without having to hand over a penny.

Now, the NHS has set up a new unit dedicated to bringing the latest digital technology into its ongoing patient experience program.

Digital Transformation

The new unit was unveiled by UK Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Rt Hon Matt Hancock, who revealed that the initiative will be called NHSx. Designed to speed up the NHS's digital transformation, NHSx will be tasked with evaluating the latest digital technology being brought into the healthcare industry and accelerating its incorporation into the service.

"Because I care about patients getting the best treatment, I care about the NHS getting the best technology," said Hancock. "But everyone knows how hard it's been to get the NHS to adopt the best in digital. We've set out a clear tech vision for the NHS, which underpins our NHS Long Term Plan. Now we're bringing together the tech leadership into NHSx, which will be responsible for harnessing the true potential of technology to transform care, save lives, free up clinicians' time and empower patients to take greater control of their own health."

Most of the technology presently being used by the NHS is designed for the pre-internet healthcare landscape. Due in part to the organization's reliance on government funding, the switch to smart and Internet of Things technology has been slow. However, with the inception of the NHSx unit, it's now hoped that the latest healthcare technology - which will help the organization treat patients better, faster, and grant an altogether better experience for all - will start being prioritized.

Another reason why change has been slow for the NHS is due to the fragmented and disparate nature of the various teams, agencies, and organizations responsible for assessing and approving digital and data technology. However, NHSx will bring all the decision makers and policy drivers together to work as one to accelerate digital transformation.

Excessive bureaucracy is one of the biggest barriers to change - and one of the NHS's biggest issues - so helping to bring these walls down will likely benefit the entire organization.

"NHSx will combine some of the best minds from among the NHS, leading innovators, and government into one unit to set national policy, remove red tape, and create a culture of innovation to allow the best innovations to flourish," continued Hancock. "This is just the beginning of the tech revolution, building on our Long-Term Plan to create a predictive, preventative, and unrivalled NHS."

NHSx

The new unit's responsibilities will include setting national policy and standards for the use and transparency of technology and data within the NHS. The aim is to improve clinical care and patient experience through agile and user-focused projects - including making sure that archaic systems are replaced by connected technology which can communicate with the rest of the organization.

NHSx will also ensure all patient-facing technology - such as smartphone apps - are intuitive and easy to use, and that all clinicians and treatment providers are given adequate training and instruction in their use, so they are able to communicate effectively with patients.

Cybersecurity is a huge focus of any organization and a big part of the patient experience revolves around NHS service users being confident that their data is being handled with the care and respect it deserves. Because of this, NHSx will be ensuring that all new systems and technologies are introduced with security baked into their DNA and are fully compliant with appropriate legislation, such as the European Union's GDPR.

Final Thoughts

Digital technology has the power to transform the patient experience. In an organization as large and complex as the NHS, patient experience can often fall to the wayside. But with NHSx now driving change through technology, the UK's number one health service will hopefully start to see massive improvements in this area.

"The NHS Long Term Plan describes a hugely ambitious vision for the next generation of the NHS and much of that vision depends on new digital, data and technology capabilities," said Chief Executive of NHS Digital, Sarah Wilkinson. "The program of digital transformation ahead of us is extraordinary in terms of its scale, its complexity and the extent to which it can change lives."


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