Healthcare professionals are working flat out to provide care – which makes it the ‘perfect’ time to digitally transform services, says Professional Record Standards Body’ chief executive officer Lorraine Foley.

For those of us old enough to remember the 2008 financial crisis, US President Barack Obama’s Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel, invoked a universal truth when he said: “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste. And what I mean by that is an opportunity to do things that you think you could not do before.”

The pandemic and its aftermath have created unparalleled challenges for the NHS and social care. Digital transformation may seem beyond reach in these hard times. Candid leaders will tell you that professionals say they are far too busy providing care to think about transforming services digitally.

But this is precisely why now is the right time to redouble our efforts to accelerate digital transformation. It is important precisely because it will help secure the future of the NHS and social care, just as much as workforce planning, urgent and emergency care recovery and resolving funding crises.

Focus on a few things

It is true that successful transformation takes time and the commitment of front-line staff. But among the many lessons the pandemic taught us is that we can make faster progress when the need is overwhelming if we focus on a few things that matter and do them well. The question is which things? Local organisations will know best what will deliver the biggest gain for them, but national direction that supports people to succeed is also essential.

A case in point: last month’s urgent and emergency care recovery plan announced the intention to scale up virtual wards (where clinical teams monitor people’s progress using video technology) to treat 50,000 people a month, a five-fold increase. The aim is to meet the needs of the ageing population, reducing the risk of falls and supporting frail patients at or near home. It is estimated this could avoid 20% of linked emergency admissions.

Virtual wards, wearables and personal access to digital care records can also help people manage their health and care better. A Health Foundation study found that people who were able to manage their health conditions had 38% fewer emergency admissions, 32% fewer emergency attendances and 18% fewer GP appointments. This could save nearly 500,000 emergency admissions to hospital a year and even more attendances.

Engage professions with ‘intuitive’ digital

To succeed we need to get professionals behind these changes. Digital initiatives in the past failed, in part, due to lack of engagement with the workforce. As CEO of the Professional Record Standards Body I know that engagement is essential and that is why it is core to our organisation’s mission and work.

Technology needs to adapt to clinical workflows, it needs to be intuitive, user friendly and a fundamental part of clinical training and education. That is where PRSB information standards come in. Standards are needed to flow data safely across care settings including at home so that professionals have the information they need for safe, effective care and good outcomes.

System suppliers and providers will need to step up too and evidence conformance with standards for information sharing so that professionals and people reap the benefits.

National policy including What Good Looks Like, national procurement frameworks, Information Standards Notices and legislation, the Data Protection and Digital Information Bill will ensure the widespread use of standards that promote information sharing.

PRSB’s Standards Partnership Scheme supports suppliers and provider organisations to realise the benefits of digitising care records and guides them through standards conformance step by step. We are proud that this innovative scheme has been welcomed by the NHS and suppliers alike as an important contribution to digitising the NHS and social care.

Lorraine Foley

Lorraine Foley, Chief Executive Officer, Professional Record Standards Body

Next month from the PRSB: Shared care records and bridging the divide between health and social care.