By Kate Mansfield
Published 15 October 2020
Digital Healthcare Strategy –
6 reasons why now is the time
to refresh your strategy
Technology has been fundamental to the way healthcare organisations have responded to the Covid-19 crisis. Many organisations are recognising the need to build on this momentum and ‘lock-in’ the changes. However, there are many facets to the impact of Covid-19, which will require us to take a fresh view of our digital priorities and identify new opportunities for digital transformation.
Here are six reasons why we should start reviewing and refreshing our digital healthcare strategies:
1. Responding, recovering, resetting
The immediate response to the crisis was to keep people safe and essential services operating. Organisations have since been working hard to restart activity and stabilise business. Bold digital strategies are required to incorporate learnings from rapidly deployed solutions, to re-establish and realign clinical services, to address the changing needs of the workplace and communities, and align with new business and operating models.
2. Addressing inequalities
The pandemic has highlighted the reality of inequality in our communities. There is evidence that some groups of people are more vulnerable to Covid-19, including disproportionate mortality and morbidity amongst black, Asian and minority ethnic people. While the NHS Long Term Plan has been a strong driver for Population Health Management, the need to adopt this model has become more urgent.
Not only can a population health approach help to target and protect the vulnerable from Covid, but it will also allow health economies to plan services more effectively, prevent illnesses placing further strain on the health system and build a more resilient population. Identification of clinically and socially vulnerable citizens requires a well-orchestrated approach to integrated health and social care systems, data-driven intelligence, underpinned by sound governance and infrastructure.
Digital strategies may also want to help address the variation of digital literacy and inclusion of staff and patients in our populations, as well as the variation in digital maturity of some organisations such as care homes.
3. Supporting out of hospital care
We will see an even greater emphasis on out of hospital care with the persisting risk of infection, reduced capacity, and winter pressures. Community-based care has many implications for digital strategies – workforce tools to support non-face-to-face consultations, mobile working tools for community-based staff, infrastructure and cybersecurity.
More extensive information sharing with community-based health and social care providers, including Community Pharmacy, voluntary sector, social prescribing link workers, Primary Care Networks, and mental health staff will have implications for integration strategies.
Apps to support patient self-care and innovative remote rehabilitation tools are providing a means for people to manage conditions and recover at home without unnecessary trips to the hospital. 111 services will become a triage point to ensure patients are directed to appropriate services, reducing footfall in ED and General Practice, and requiring greater integration between systems.
4. Dealing with the backlog
Digital expertise, tools, and platforms are essential to support the shift in supply and demand modelling as waiting lists grow and we redefine capacity. Strategies will also consider the use of technology and tools to support demand for services such as distributed workforce platforms (e.g. diagnostics), virtual consultations and Artificial Intelligence (AI).
5. The value proposition
The need to demonstrate efficiencies and value for money will become more significant. However, efficiency priorities may need to be revised to reflect the impact of Covid, and also should not compromise resilience.
Digital strategies can identify new and innovative opportunities to automate workflows, releasing staff time for patient care, or retraining and redeploying staff. With the shift in the utilisation of spaces and workforce due to digital interventions, we will need greater alignment between Digital, Estates and Workforce strategies.
6. The bigger picture
Healthcare systems may need to reset ambitions aligned with the local economy, society and environment with greater collaboration with institutions such as universities, science, local government and public services. The NHS Confederation sees a vital role for the health and care sector in the broader economic and social recovery of local places requiring a data-driven network of health and social care bodies. [i]
Many deliverables of current strategies may not change but instead will be adopted at a faster rate – telemedicine, remote working, integrated care records. However, the way we deliver these, understanding the context and our population and services will change. How we collaborate, communicate, innovate and share our learnings will be essential for success.