For as long as healthcare providers have used multiple IT systems, the NHS has struggled with interoperability.
The problem grows exponentially as the number of systems supporting administrative and clinical processes within a healthcare provider increases and it gets even bigger when these providers are required to share information.
‘The Digital Advantage - Realising the benefits of interoperability for health and social care in England’ looks at the difficulties in achieving interoperability and analyses accomplishments to date through a series of case studies.
It also looks at the next set of interoperability challenges that need to be overcome and the steps that should be taken to get there - backed up by evidence of what works.
The report gives five key recommendations for a new, national initiative to ensure that people reap the benefits of digital transformation. They include:
- Introduce legislation to underwrite agreed national data standards and mandate NHS organisations and social care bodies to use them for patient records
- Extend the 2024 deadline for NHS trusts to achieve a “core level of digitisation” to take account of the impact of Covid-19
- Publish a technology implementation plan for health and care that sets a budget with clear milestones and measurable actions for achieving full interoperability
- Provide seed funding for accelerated trials of the Trusted Research Environment model to address questions such as how to accredit participating researchers
- Commission a data security team to help NHS trusts meet the Cyber Essentials Plus standard introduced after the 2017 WannaCry ransomware attack
Professor Peter Bannister Executive Chair, IET Healthcare Sector and Vice President Life Sciences, Ada Health said: “Until recently, healthcare interoperability has been regarded as a goal in and of itself but as this report highlights, it is more correctly viewed as a methodology which can be delivered through a framework of governance, standards, skills and best practice to enable integrated, patient-centric care while also allowing for rapid adaptation in a truly agile manner to respond to global pandemics.
“Interoperability goes beyond healthcare systems being able to share information: it necessitates a robust, trustworthy approach to patient data handling and its implementation needs to be considered in the context of equitable health and care provision to prevent situations where large disparities can quickly arise between siloed systems and their respective patient populations.”
The report has been supported by Dr Lisa Cameron MP and Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Health. She said: “The interoperability of medical records in the NHS is a very daunting task. Obstacles arise including the sharing of highly sensitive personal health information. Shared health record systems have to conform to the UK’s strong legal protections for patient confidentiality and link up technologies developed within a complex network of organisational silos."
“I would like to sincerely thank the IET and all contributors for constructing this report. It highlights key elements of a framework for interoperability.
There must be robust protections for patient confidentiality; national data and content standards; localised delivery of integrated patient records; and development of the health informatics profession and I support the IET’s work in this area.”