The Health Foundation: technologies clinicians say can save the NHS time

  • 29 April 2024
The Health Foundation: technologies clinicians say can save the NHS time

A new survey from The Health Foundation has highlighted the technologies clinicians say could offer the biggest opportunities to save time in the NHS – with electronic health records and communication tools both ranking highly.

With healthcare professionals facing huge demands on their time, the 2024 Spring Budget highlighted how technology would be central to realising the ambitions of the NHS Long Term Workforce Plan. The purpose of The Health Foundation survey was to determine how clinical staff felt about the prospect of technology being used to boost productivity and relieve time pressures.

The survey revealed that when presented with a list of technologies, more than half of respondents (51%) picked video conferencing to talk to colleagues as their biggest time-saver right now, closely followed by electronic health records (50%) and digital messaging tools for communicating with colleagues (29%).

With the figures adjusted to show results for those who currently use the technology, they still remained the top choices with 60% (video conferencing), 57% (EHRs) and 40% (digital messaging tools).

The Health Foundation notes that both EHRs (and the access to data they permit) and tools used for inter-professional communication are both central to supporting the NHS to move towards more joined-up, integrated care for patients.

However, it may not be as straightforward as implementing these new technologies and then sitting back and waiting to see the benefits, with the research suggesting plenty of room for improvement. Interviews with clinicians as part of the same research from The Health Foundation found mixed results on how effective EHRs could be: while 56% recognised time-savings, 44% found none. They suggested this could be down to the effectiveness of the implementation across different contexts.

Additionally, the interviews also highlighted significant concerns that EHRs in particular are yet to be used effectively, or to have their full potential realised. Of concern was the ability to access notes and test results from other providers, underlining the challenge the NHS is facing around interoperability and data sharing.

Forwards focus

The Health Foundation also questioned clinicians about the technologies they felt had the most potential for the future to save the NHS time within the next five years. While results were less clean-cut here, front runners did emerge. Clinical documentation tools (such as voice recognition software that converts speech to text) was selected by 31%, 26% opted for EHRs, and 23% picked software that analyses images and test results.

As with the results of the questions around what saves time right now, when asked about the potential future time-savers, many of the highest-ranked technologies were to support administrative tasks, rather than the clinical workload.

Perhaps reflecting the opinion that videoconferencing and digital messaging tools have already reached their potential, there was far less optimism that these tools could save more time over the next five years. Videoconferencing was selected by just 10% and digital messaging tools by only seven percent.

With EHRs making the top three technologies both for saving time right now and within the next five years, the research suggests there are still more gains to be made from this technology.

The other top two tools for time-savings in the future were not yet widely used: 39% of respondents had used clinical documentation tools and just 13% reporting they have previously used software for image analysis or test results.

Barriers to adoption

The research also explored the barriers clinicians face when adopting these technologies effectively, with respondents asked to pick up to five barriers they have encountered in the workplace.

More than half (55%) chose a lack of IT support and expertise, with a lack of funding to implement new technologies also being selected by 53%. Other challenges selected included poor internet connectivity (41%), not having the right equipment (37%), difficulties with passwords, permissions or access (36%) and a lack of time for staff to train (28%).

According to the report from The Health Foundation: “The prominence of these kinds of reported barriers is perhaps unsurprising, given that successful technology use requires embedding it effectively in local contexts and having the right skills and ways of working to derive the benefits.”

Unlocking the potential of technology

The Health Foundation’s research has highlighted key areas of action that need to happen if we are going to unlock the potential time savings that technologies could deliver to the NHS.

1 – Give greater priority to technologies that can help with administrative and operational tasks

2 – Recognise that many of the most immediate gains will come from the optimisation and spread of existing technologies.

3 – Support rigorous, real-world testing and evaluation of emerging technologies.

4 – Tackle the barriers staff face in the effective implementation and day-to-day use of technology, including improving underlying infrastructure.

5 – Increase staff involvement in demand signalling and technology development and deployment.

Productivity gains will come not from the technology alone, but from how well the end-users can implement it. As the research notes: “Given that the change enabled by technology depends on the staff who use it, we argue that centring clinical perspectives and insights is crucial to achieving the coalition and leadership for change required to transform NHS care now and in the future.”

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  • This piece shows a thorough understanding of the challenges present. Complexity is significant, with numerous layers of challenge in a clear national policy, challenges in fostering regional collaboration, and the complex landscapes of technology within providers. While recognising the barriers to technology adoption, it’s imperative not to neglect the importance of usability and design- which can be shockingly poor. Plus and often overlooked, the missed opportunities to question and refine processes, behaviours, and workflows.

    • You’re absolutely right, it’s a real maze out there with all these challenges. From big national policies to just getting folks in different regions to work together, it’s tough. And yeah, sometimes the tech tools just aren’t user-friendly, which can be a real headache.

      Tailored solutions to specific needs is key here. By doing so, we can address the unique challenges faced by different stakeholders and make sure technology fits smoothly into their workflows. This not only makes it easier to use but also increases the chances of successful adoption. That way, we can make sure technology actually helps instead of adding to the mess.

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