Integrating digital health care

Who, What, When, Where, Why, hoW. These six ‘w’ questions lie at the heart of so much of our lives. And when it comes to our health and health management, having accurate and informative answers to those questions could make the difference between the delivery of successful treatment plans and an ongoing health emergency.

It would be nice to say that thankfully the days of following paper trails are over; with smart data now delivering seamless and instantaneous transfers of information across health systems. However, the recent story of thousands of letters stuck in a hospital electronic file shows that there is still some way to go before we achieve smart data sharing.

Nevertheless, electronic systems have improved and are improving to the benefit of patients. Even the ability to electronically store patient notes has helped to speed up referral and review processes. This writer remembers only too well in the past a relative being handed copies of notes and x-rays to store at home and take to their appointment elsewhere the following week. They were told that otherwise the records would have to be posted and that could lead to delays of up to a month!

So digitising records is an improvement. But with so much patient data going online, what safeguards should be put in place to ensure that patient safety and confidentiality is maintained. That’s a question which will be put to members of the public in a series of events in 2024. Designed to take the next step in digital transformation, the events will both showcase existing programmes and ask people to have their say in the shaping of future digital policies.

Commenting on the initiative Dr Vin Diwakar, National Director of Transformation at NHS England said that: “Better use of data brings huge benefits for patients, ensuring more joined-up care and better use of NHS resources, and leading to faster cancer diagnosis, shorter wait times for elective operations and reduced stays in hospital.”

However, they went on to acknowledge that public support is integral to how data is used to improve care. This comment was echoed by Nicola Hamilton, Head of Understanding Patient Data who said that large scale engagement events are “urgently needed to ensure the public has a greater voice in how their data is used, what choices they have, and what safeguards they feel are necessary to improve potential benefits and reduce potential harms.”

One of the dangers with data is that the possession of information is seen as an end point rather that a stepping stone to understanding and delivery. That’s where integrated health care programmes come into their own. It might be something as simple as the provision of wearable digital devices which monitor patients in their own homes; thereby freeing up hospital beds. Or it might be the electronic sharing of patient records to enable cross-healthcare and welfare treatments for individuals with multiple conditions. Whatever the solution, the key to personalised treatment plans lies in the accurate and fast sharing of digital patient information.