Enovacom’s Mark Smith and Anil Madhar have been working with the NHS and international healthcare providers for decades, helping frontline staff use technology and data to enhance the quality of care. In this article, they reflect on how Covid-19 has changed the technology landscape for the UK public healthcare provider.
Interoperability, data sharing and collaboration are key to the digital transformation of healthcare for the UK and abroad. We saw how the Covid-19 pandemic brought this into even sharper focus.
From the beginning, the pandemic meant hospitals had to react to the surge in demand for critical care. Intensive care units (ICUs) needed extra beds and ventilators, staff interactions with the patients and the equipment contact had to be minimised, and data had to keep flowing into the patient record.
Strategic medical device integration was the answer for hospitals such as Chalon-sur-Saône. The French healthcare provider, like many other hospitals in the world, was required to double its number of critical care beds and reduce the number of staff and patient contact points, whilst ensuring data from multiple devices was available at the point of care.
Enovacom worked with the hospital team on a rapid and remote installation that helped to increase bed capacity whilst also ensuring that monitoring data could be uploaded directly to the electronic patient record, without the need for staff to be in the room.
Getting the right data in front of the right person has been vital. Data repositories have been able to collect, store and share structured, semi-structured and unstructured data from multiple systems. These have been able to make data human-readable so that clinicians at the point of care have all the patient’s information they need to make more informed clinical decisions.
Remote workers have also needed support, and collaboration software such as Microsoft Teams has been a game-changer for this. A self-isolating doctor has been able to work with a junior doctor on-site, and – with the right data integration support – access a patient’s medication, history, and results to make more informed and collaborative decisions.
Progress continues to be made
It has been an invigorating journey, and progress is not being lost as we face the seemingly inevitable second wave of coronavirus.
Healthcare providers are looking to build on the safety and efficiency benefits of medical device integration. Automating the collection of vital signs data is helping to reduce unnecessary interactions with patients and technology for nursing staff, for example.
This builds on our medical device integration work with the Wirral University Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust. This Global Digital Exemplar site is using our project as a blueprint for data sharing in the ICU, which is attracting interest from a new wave of digital aspirant funded trusts across the country.
Growing patient waiting lists mean providers have to prioritise which patients they need to see first. Getting the right data from a robust data repository helps caregivers decide on who needs to be seen and in which order, so they can provide the right care at the right time. Business intelligence tools can then use this data to provide even deeper insight, helping providers become smarter at demand management.
Alongside the remote workforce, we are seeing a growth in telecare and telemedicine. Whether it is BMI data from devices in a patient’s home – as we are working on in France – or medication reminders via a smartwatch, the increasing amount of data available is proving valuable to the clinician, health professional, and patients.
Obstacles remain, but they can be overcome
Despite these advances, some barriers need to be overcome.
Standards are the foundations of data sharing and interoperability. These might be mandated, but the word mandate does not seem to have the same strength in this industry. At the same time, some device manufacturers might not share data with competing systems, even when those systems are used across the same hospital group.
Senior NHS managers have recognised the need to drive collaboration, with the creation of integrated care systems. Now the NHS should use its muscle to mandate technical standards properly so that data sharing can be a central part of the new normal.
Some areas of healthcare are less digitally mature than others, due in part to historical under-investment. Mental health, for example, has only recently seen funding increases due to a recognition that it costs the NHS a significant sum of money, which is growing as the average age of the population increases. Money has to flow across the system if we want to link care together and see patients treated in non-hospital settings.
As well as finances, data needs to flow between care providers, from hospital (and virtual) ward to board and beyond. Cultural working practices can move beyond data siloes by building on the invigorating spirit of collaboration enabled by technology adoption that emerged after the shock of coronavirus.
The pandemic clearly demonstrated that suppliers are just as passionate about helping patients as those who provide the service. We – and our Enovacom colleagues – know healthcare very well. We understand the digital journey and the next steps the NHS wants to take.
There is an exciting path ahead if we all embrace the pandemic-driven opportunity for digital health.