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Giving the NHS some IT treatment

There are plenty of things that could help the NHS save money by using IT finds Nick Booth

Don’t you wish the IT industry would help the NHS, rather than exploit it?

According to the NHS Five Year Forward View our health service faces a £30 billion funding gap. Worse still, there’s said to be a mass exodus of doctors.

How can the IT industry help with that? By not wasting £12 billion on a useless National Programme for IT, for a start.

But what are the systematic efficiencies? Don’t laugh. They are possible.

There’s an argument that the cloud has put an end to the ‘flog it and run’ style of IT selling that saw hospitals regularly fleeced out of their funds. It’s all about services now, they say.

One way to tackle the GP shortage would be to get them to deal with patients over the phone. That way they could work from home, says Lee Bryant, MD of Sesui, whose Cloud Call Manager would enable this.

In support of this argument, Sesui questioned doctors about their workloads and how they could manage them better. Half the doctors questioned by Sesui’s researchers said current demands are unsustainable and that making patient calls from home could be the answer.

Half of them agreed that working from home can ‘improve the patient journey’ as the doctor can follow each patient’s treatment pathway. They don’t say why, however. Home working also helps the doctor spend longer the patients and cuts waiting times.

Consistency helps to prevent ‘patient panic’ - which makes them call an ambulance and go to the Accident and Emergency department of the hospital.

According to Sesui, 77% of UK doctors would extend their consultation hours if they could securely take patient calls remotely. What’s stopping them then?

Meanwhile, 73% of UK doctors would provide an out-of-hours service, helping to reduce current pressures on A&E. Why, in the name of Skype, aren’t they doing it then? It’s not rocket science is it?

At London’s five-surgery Jai Medical Practice, GPs work an additional two hours a week from home using Sesui’s Virtual Contact Centre as a way to provide secure telephone appointments. This flexible working can cater for 5,000 extra patient appointments a year. 

“We’ve only just scratched the surface when it comes to digital health innovations,” says Ian Sharp, CEO of the Digital Health Enterprise Zone.

Memory merchants Crucial, says NHS Trusts in England spend £158,038 on new PCs per day. Two fifths (42%) of healthcare workers feel like IT hinders them from doing their job, according to memory merchant Crucial. Crucials’s market research exercise shows that every day, from January 2013 to June 2017, NHS Trusts threw away 144 computers. That’s a total of 237,422. They replaced them with 401,084 new PCs, at a cost of  £27 million.

Crucial says that the £650 spent on each PC (on average) could have been saved if they’d spent £250 per PC upgrading them with a 525 gigabyte solid state disk.

That’s a £95 million saving, right there, it claims.

Well, up to a point. As preparation for its marketing campaign, Crucial submitted freedom of information (FOI) requests to 235 NHS Trusts in England. How much would that have cost the NHS in lost productivity? Let’s hope, if Crucial wins some business on the back of these efforts, it makes a donation to the NHS.

We should be careful about these requests for information, says Clive Longbottom, senior research for Quocirca. “FoI should only be used where there is a public interest in the results or where an individual is concerned about certain information,” says Longbottom, “it should not be used as a fishing expedition - which IT looks like Crucial is doing here.”

However the public sector must take a large part of the blame if vendors see it as a cash cow, he warns. “True centralised purchasing with highly trained negotiators should lead to such a massive body getting the cheapest deals on basics and excellent deals even on specifics, like drugs.”

“As we have seen via PFI deals, the public sector is seen as an easy target for milking large profits,” says Longbottom.

The biggest money saver to the NHS would be to kill its deadliest enemy, the superbug. Healthcare acquired infections like flu, Norovirus, MRSA and Cdiff - will each cost between fifty and a hundred thousand pounds per patient. Collectively, they cost a billion. Now the bugs are growing resistant to drugs.

But they are not resistant to lasers. Thor, by Finsen Technologies, is a sort of robo-steriliser, which blasts the little bugs whereever they are, whether they are hovering on a lightswitch, a door handle or just floating in the air.

Everyone has to leave the room and the robot, whose lasers have omnipotent reach, can sterilise absolutely everything. It looks a bit like the robot from Lost in Space, and it can be wheeled into wards, burns units, operating theatres, isolation wards, care homes and ambulances.

One blast of high intensity ultra violet C light (UVC) kills the DNA structure of pathogens in minutes. I think I prefer Thor’s approach to handling DNA to Google’s.

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