Making the best use of IT, digital data and services is becoming increasingly important in the NHS, as research shows a direct correlation between higher levels of digital maturity and patient safety.
A recent report by the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) found IT adoption was linked to mortality, patient and staff satisfaction, average stay lengths and short-term admissions, among other measures.
“Towards 2020, NHS England is saying hospitals that haven’t invested [in IT] may have their licence to provide health and social care services brought into question,” HIMSS professional development director John Rayner told ComputerworldUK.
“It’s likely to become part of the regulatory regime in future, which will encourage hospitals to invest in and use IT properly,” he added.
The policy is part of the NHS’s ‘Personalised Health and Care 2020’ plan to improve the use of technology in the NHS and set up more citizen-orientated digital services.
If the NHS could get trusts to invest in IT and use it more efficiently, “a lot of inroads” could be made into the £30 billion funding gap the NHS faces between now and 2020, according to Rayner.
Rayner said he expects to see contracts between hospitals and Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) include provisions demanding hospitals have invested in IT “in the next two or three years”.
About 50 percent of the 95 trusts HIMSS surveyed had the capacity for clinicians to enter patient data electronically, which could indicate the other half are falling behind, he said.
“If we can take that as a proxy for the rest of the  trusts, I don’t know. But if we did, perhaps 50 percent of the trusts in the UK are where they should be, or on a road to good levels of digital maturity, and 50 percent are not”, he explained.
These "laggard" trusts often see IT as a financial burden rather than an enabler to cut costs and improve efficiency, Rayner claimed.
“It also depends on leadership within acute trusts, the position and attitude of not just the executive but the board of directors. Those views have enormous influence,” he said.
NHS England is planning to set up a ‘Digital Maturity Index’ to rank hospitals by how effectively they use IT, digital data and services. The index will be published on the NHS Choices website from October 2015.
This will allow trusts to see where they stand in relation to others and incentivise them to “aim higher”, Rayner explained.
Ideally, trusts should have integrated systems across clinical areas that provide staff with automatic alerts, he said.
These can remind clinicians to take a blood test before prescribing a potentially toxic medication or stop MRI scans for patients with pacemakers, for example.
“Only when you get all those systems interacting and communicating with each other do you truly get patient safety.”
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