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NHSX publishes IT standards and interoperability priorities

The creation of an IT strategy, a governance model and an open source playbook are among the areas of focus for the interoperability team of NHSX

The digital unit of the healthcare system, NHSX, has published its plan with a set of five priorities for advancing on the standards and interoperability agenda.

Commenting on the complexities and vision on the topic, NHSX director of standards and interoperability Irina Bolychevsky said open standards need to be to be set, properly incentivised and enforced where appropriate to ensure the many IT systems across health and care can speak to each other.

“By ensuring interoperability across systems, we avoid delays in diagnosis, prevent tests from being repeated unnecessarily, and speed up the process of starting people on the correct treatment and care,” Bolychevsky said in a blog post.

“This transforms care provision by giving permitted staff instant access to people’s care records, and makes it easier for people to move between care settings,” she added.

Other benefits of interoperable systems cited include the reduction of error and increased patient safety, as well as enhanced integrated care with a single source of information, the possibility for more innovation in healthcare, the ability for patients to access their own data, and use of insights for policymaking, research and initiatives around population health.

Outlining the areas of focus, Bolychevsky listed the development of the standards and interoperability strategy itself. The plan will outline the NHSX vision for health and care, where “interoperable systems are ubiquitous and the benefits of adoption are clearly understood by clinicians and technical staff alike”.

According to the NHSX IT chief, the plan is expected to provide a framework for the digital unit's objectives, guidance and guardrails for addressing key challenges to interoperability. A long-term roadmap for standards and interoperability, alongside a timeline for moving from one version to another, will be published, and is expected to set out the pipeline for new standards and priorities for the implementation of existing standards.

A new end-to-end process and governance model for standards development will also be rolled out as part of the areas of focus for the NHSX interoperability and standards team. This is aimed to improve engagement with the communities involved and communicate accountabilities, responsibilities and handoffs for the model, from priority setting through to adoption, maintenance and deprecation of standards.

Other areas of focus include the upcoming publication of an open source playbook, which is intended to help providers and commissioners looking to expand their initiatives in that area.

A standards portal, which will have a a registry of standards used across health and care, will be rolled out to support vendors, providers and commissioners, and will include community features to enable greater collaboration and sharing around standards development, maintenance and adoption and will be maintained on an ongoing basis.

Interoperability is one of the main areas of attention for NHSX since its inception in 2019. The digital unit published its Tech Plan in early February, which outlines how it will ensure a personalised, joined-up and proactive delivery of health and care by 2024.

The inability for systems to talk to each other was one of the hurdles outlined in the plan around achieving that vision. Data is not flowing safely across the NHS for “legitimate sharing” for aims including research, the report noted. According to the document, this is due to lack of interoperability and complex guidance on information governance.

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