Technological innovation is "critical and central" to integrating care and addressing the financial pressures facing the NHS, care secretary Norman Lamb has said.
Lamb spoke about the government's push for integrated health and social care at the Health + Care conference in London this morning.
He told attendees the "extraordinary fragmentation" between health and social care providers has to be addressed if a potential NHS funding gap of £30 billion by 2021 is to be dealt with.
"We need to think beyond bricks and mortar, this separation between health and social care – and collaboration at a local level of all the players seems to be vital for success."
Lamb said technology will play a "critical" role in helping to cut down on healthcare budgets, and cited the growing number of healthcare applications as an example of potential solutions.
"There is a level of experimentation that has to happen if we are to meet the most extraordinary challenges that we face.
"We need to develop new ways of working and further efficiencies to ensure that we have sustainable healthcare in the future, and the role of technology is going to be critical and central to this."
Lamb said the 14 areas chosen as 'integrated care pioneers' by the Department of Health are doing "really fascinating and excellent work”, developing shared care records and using technology to provide a single point of contact for care users.
DH has also been working with the pioneers on the issue of data sharing. Lamb indicated it has been holding workshops with care providers and commissioners to address concerns about how to share information and remove "bureaucratic barriers" to progress.
Better access to data will help clinicians to improve their decision making, he said.
"Good data and interpretation of that data is what this is all about, so we're not basing decisions in a fog. We have a wealth of data within our system, and that data gives us the chance to operate and make decisions on the basis of evidence."
Lamb said the planned budget for the Better Care Fund, the government's flagship integration initiative, has increased from £3.8 billion to £5.4 billion after local authorities pooled their plans.
However, the initiative is on hold, following concerns from NHS finance experts that the plans will not cover the contribution made by the health service, which amounts to 15% of emergency admissions.
The National Audit Office has also raised concerns about whether the push for integrated care will save money and improve services.
Lamb said he is aware of the need to address the potential issues before moving ahead. "This is why we've asked for the plans one year in advance so they can be tested.
“It is a difficult process and but it's necessary to ensure the plans are robust, because we have to start doing things differently.
"The problems we're talking have existed for decades, so I don't underestimate the problem it presents or the timeframe we want to achieve it in; but the prize we're all after is enormous."
Lamb said the Better Care Fund plans will come into effect from April 2015, with all plans going to the DH before they can be signed off.
He also reiterated his previous calls for health and social care budgets to be pooled together, and said he wanted this to take place by 2018.