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Post-pandemic recovery drives NHS digitisation

NHS staff see a role for remote healthcare to enable the health service to keep up with increased demands, according to iGov survey

An iGov survey of 85 individuals from 69 NHS organisations looking at new approaches to patient care in the Covid-19 era has reported that the health service is accelerating digital transformation.

As a result of the pandemic, clinicians who took part in the survey said that they are seeing increased demand in remote services (80%), rising patient expectations (71%) and pressures from the pandemic (65%). 

The survey found that 62% of participants “strongly agree” that new pressures mean digital transformation is more important than ever to improve how they work. A further 38% “strongly agree” that they have to accelerate their transformation plans this year.

Just short of three-quarters of the clinicians who took part in the survey (73%) acknowledge that their network, Wi-Fi infrastructure and mobile technology continue to be critical to future transformation. More than three-quarters (80%) believe that demand to deliver NHS services is driving demand for remote care.

A lack of funding or the perceived cost of digital transformation initiatives was cited as the main barrier to digitising NHS processes. However, while cost is traditionally perceived as the biggest challenge in the public sector, the study indicates that concerns over cost (39%) are far outweighed by a cultural resistance to new digital processes (60%).

The survey, which is published in BT’s Progressing digital transformation in healthcare 2021 ebook, shows that among the biggest barriers to adopting greater levels of remote healthcare is the ability of patients to understand the technology. More than two-thirds ( 71%) of the clinicians surveys said that a patient’s ability to use and access digital services without assistance is an issue.

According to the authors of the BT ebook, this suggests that taking advantage of the new enthusiasm for digital tools could require a big cultural shift in society at large. More than half (56%) also said they don’t have the systems in place to access critical systems (such as patient records) in real time, 43% have reported difficulty connecting from remote locations, while 41% are concerned about their colleagues’ ability to use technology.

The iGov survey also found that email has now overtaken paper-based communications between staff and patients (70% and 50%, respectively). Participants said they are now communicating via video calls (69%), while just under a third (31%) said they use text alerts for communications with patients, and 43% still use pagers for staff.

BT said that while 97% of UK adults have used technology this past year to connect with the NHS, the survey reported that only 18% of health organisations currently use patient health apps. Similarly, only 40% of NHS staff use an online booking system.

The ebook reported that some participants expressed concern about the availability of skills internally. For instance, the ebook’s authors said that one participant pointed to a disparity between the complexity of NHS IT systems and the IT skills of staff members, while another was concerned about levels of confidence among staff.

Sultan Mahmud, director of healthcare in BT’s Enterprise unit, said: “With almost five million people waiting for operations in England alone – the highest since 2007 – digital technologies and solutions must be deployed at pace to help the NHS to deliver flexible, personalised and anticipatory care to patients and release capacity wherever possible.”

Read more about digitisation

  • We speak to NHS Scotland’s head of digital about the IT to help ease the pressure on the health service, which has intensified during the Covid-19 pandemic.
  • We explore how the Covid-19 pandemic has forced businesses to rip out traditional paper processes and replace them with end-to-end digitisation.

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