Interoperability will be a big focus for  2017, as health organisations are forced together and the NHS looks for new ways to stretch its digital budget.

A Digital Health News review of 20 UK health digital health leaders found a strong expectation that linking existing IT systems together will take precedence over deploying new technology.

Interoperability was targeted by both suppliers and leaders within the NHS as a prerequisite to unlocking better information governance, data analytics, and enabling organisation integration.

Sustainability and transformation plans, which one supplier described as the “only game in town” for 2017, have divided the country into 44 areas that will be expected to act cohesively to improve care and reduce costs, if they want to secure funding.

But even for the best plans, central funding for digital transformation will be scarce, leaving many areas to focus on making better use of the systems already in place.

Natalie Chishick, policy and communications director at IMS MAXIMS, said STPs placed a clear obligation on the NHS to share information, focusing on the requirement of areas rather than a single enterprise.

“Interoperability, now more than ever, will be paramount.”

Philippe Houssiau, vice president, UK Healthcare and Life Sciences at CSC, said shared care records, rather than trust specific electronic patient records, would be the focus this year.

“The thrust towards interoperability and open architectures will accelerate.”

Where new money is available, this was an expectation that sharing information will be a priority.

Emil Peters, UK and Ireland vice-president and general manager for Cerner, said investment in the global digital exemplar programme, which has singled out a handful of digitally advanced trusts for extra central funding, will spill over into the surrounding health economy, through new information gateways.

“For instance, a GP could get access to more acute patient information from an exemplar trust using Cerner, but through their Emis system.”

At the primary care level, the NHS Digital has indicated that the GP Connect programme to create open APIs between all primary care systems, which is behind  schedule, will receive renewed attention this year.

Beverley Bryant, NHS Digital’s digital transformation director, said a GP Connect pilot will be running in GP practices in Leeds and NHS Kernow region.

“Initially this will allow GPs to view patient records across systems, but the next step is for this to be used to enable patients to be able to book GP appointments anywhere in their area.”

She also hinted at a wider push for interoperability based on shared standards.

“Last year we spent a lot of time working on developing shared coding and operability standards. 2017 is the year when this work comes to life to support patient care.”

Interoperability will also be the key to unlocking another big focus of health leaders for 2017; big data and analytics.

Rachel Dunscombe, Salford Royal NHS Foundation Trust’s chief information officer, said she hoped 2017 will be the year that masses of patient data collected by the NHS was used to improve patient care.

“We have buckets of data in the NHS but we do very little with it, in terms of direct care. The introduction of SNOMED [new clinical coding standard] will help improve how this data can be used to influence patient care.”

For Mark Palmer, InterSystems UK country manager, interoperability was already technically achievable but needed to be supported by new information governance arrangement to really unlock the power of big data for patient care.

“It’s got to be bottom up, connecting operational systems across care settings as has already started in places like Merseyside and Lincolnshire.”

You can read our full list of predictions for 2017 for suppliers and NHS leaders in our features sections.

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