IBM’s recent foray into the application of big data in the U.S. healthcare sector prompted me to reflect on the current UK Healthcare technology space.
Over the last year I have spent time with many Chief Information Officers (CIOs) from a range of healthcare provider organisations to see where the industry is at, understand what demand looks like, and what the future might be. Apart from being impressed by the calibre of these Technology Leaders, a number of themes stood out.
There is no typical picture here; rather there are three distinct groupings within the sector. First, a group of laggard organisations, usually with a legacy of financial issues, combined with little strategic technology representation at board level. Many amongst this group had been relying on the promised panacea of the NPfIT to solve all their technology needs. This group is facing serious issues.
Second, a middle group currently going through rapid change. This group are behind the curve, and they know it. Hence, they have begun to take serious steps in the application of strategic technology. Yet they now find themselves in intense competition for technology resource with other organisations.
Last, we find those organisations who treated the NPfIT with a degree of scepticism from the get-go. These organisations opted to drive the technology agenda themselves and as a result are amongst the most advanced and innovative. I’ve been genuinely impressed by both the applications of technology I found and the degree of unity that exists between clinicians and technologists.
Some themes became apparent, which I’ll outline below, but underlying everything is a huge uptick in demand. The contemporary healthcare consumers’ willingness to interact through technology has passed tipping point. Savvy patients, plus a growing group of ‘digital native’ medics, mean that a poor technology proposition is no longer an option.
The CIOs I met had also seen increased demand for both a seamless customer experience and for the ability for patients to access their records, regardless of device. Interestingly, this customer experience is seen as separate from any medical outcome; indeed, in many cases a positive outcome, delivered via an unpleasant patient experience, still left an unhappy customer.
Whilst the situation was a long way from being perfect, pockets of excellence were to be found. Asked what was critical for continued success, CIOs felt a number of key factors should be kept in mind:
Clinical Sponsorship is Key. Without clinical involvement, particularly at the operational level, technology is doomed to be the white elephant. A growing trend for Clinical Chief Information Officers (CCIOs) is a positive start, but adoption on the ‘shop floor’ requires technologists to become deeply enmeshed with the wider clinical population.
Functionality Regardless of Setting. In every other aspect of both patients’ and clinicians’ lives mobility is increasing. Refusal to acknowledge, and cater for this fact, will mean Healthcare IT is inevitably seen as an inferior offering.
Interoperability. Healthcare provider organisations might understand the need to store certain patient data in multiple repositories, patients do not. If patients don’t see siloed thinking as an excuse, soon neither will clinicians. Creating a seamless nirvana of interoperability is high on many CIOs agendas.
Informed Clinical Decisioning. The really exciting application of technology in healthcare is the potential to help shape clinical decisions. To allow clinicians to better utilise resources and to work upstream of the issues. Potentially even to enable a shift away from ‘cure’ on to ‘prevention’. This is game changing stuff and is universal in occupying the IT Directors I met with.
Many of these improvements are within individual organisation’s gift to effect. However many CIOs felt that a collaborative approach at the national or vendor level may be needed, particularly in the fields of patient data or clinical systems. Whilst no one is calling for a return to the NPfIT, some kind of national collaborative working forum or even a ‘grand gesture’ from a vendor to open up product may provide the platform for a great leap forward nationally.
Alex Richardson is a consultant in the IT Leadership Practice at Berwick Partners. He recruits IT leadership roles nationally, with a focus on healthcare.