Our thoughts on the UK Government’s ‘Plan for patients’
Last month, the new Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Therese Coffey, issued ‘Our plan for patients’ — a range of measures to help the NHS and social care “perform at their best for patients”, which sits alongside the NHS Long Term Plan.
The plan attempts to tackle some of the biggest challenges experienced by patients within the NHS. Admitting that “the data shows that sadly there is too much variation in the care people receive”.
Here, Graphite CEO, Rob Verheul, shares his thoughts on the new policy. His comments were also featured in Health Tech News’ ‘Industry View’ article, which you can read in full here.
08 November 22
Identifying opportunities for digital transformation
It seems to us that the government is starting with the initial touch-points for the biggest proportion of NHS users — including ambulances, backlogs, care, doctors and dentists — and seeking to introduce digital design, technology and methodologies, alongside funding and staffing in order to improve patient outcomes in those areas.
They specifically highlight a few areas for digital transformation, including:
Expanding the use of remote monitoring of patients at home, where it is safe to do so, so that fewer people need to be admitted to hospital and instead receive care in their home
Improving comms between ambulance trusts to support each other at peak periods with a new digital intelligent routing platform
Introducing digital tools and improving IT systems to ease administrative burdens. This includes automating appointment reminder messages, consultation booking and triage responses.
They reference ‘easy-to-use’ data and performance indicators; using ‘transparent data’ to ‘empower individuals and help health and care staff learn from high performers around them about how to improve the care they deliver to patients.’ The use of data in this way could have powerful implications for people and organisations; both positive and negative - and is a bold move.
Patient-centricity and digital focus
We’re pleased to see a patient-centric approach in this strategy. We think that the government has looked at the patient journey and the data behind it — and appears to be starting by tackling the areas which leave the patients most dissatisfied today.
The plan highlights that digital is to play a significant role in supporting patients to make informed choices, with an aim to “provide as much information as possible about their length of wait for treatment, making waiting lists by specialty and by provider more accessible.”
We believe this would make for a very helpful improvement to the patient experience.
Managing the expectations of people using digital channels rather than person-to-person interactions ought to reduce the amount of conversations and opportunities for confusion. Another welcome byproduct for the NHS may be that with accurate information about their waiting times, those who can afford it are more likely to opt for private care.
What will the key challenges be to overcome?
There are a number of factors which we believe will make transforming these parts of the patient journey a hard task to do;
Data accuracy and portability
The data that is published can only be as good as the data that is fed into the system. It is known that the NHS has tried to centralise data and improve data portability on many occasions; yet it has struggled to do so, so it should not be underestimated how hard it will be to bring together the digital services needed to achieve these goals.
People are needed in order to design these new services; translating some processes from manual to digital. Motivating people to change their working practices and enabling them to use the systems will be challenges that will play a part in the success or failure of these ideals.
The NHS Covid App cost £76 million in the first year to achieve a single function. Here, there are multiple functions and systems that need integration and improvement; we can anticipate that the cost will be significant, and time frames hard to predict.
One of the main promises is to publish easy-to-use data and performance indicators about how their Local NHS is performing ‘such as on waiting lists for elective care and general practice appointments.’ A great idea in principle, yet one we foresee will put greater pressure on the local trusts to respond to; the majority of which are overwhelmed and under-resourced to respond to those needs.
A positive start, but the proof will be in implementation
There are many things to like about the plans — particularly the apparent patient-centric approach. The Government has clearly looked at the patient journey and the data behind it, and appears to be starting by tackling the areas which leave the patients most dissatisfied today and responding to people’s desire to take greater control of their health outcomes by equipping them with information about their options. In doing this, the responsibility for the care pathways will be shared more between healthcare provider and patient.
None of these initiatives will be easy to implement, however. With the complexities including data portability and user experience design for the general public, as well as cost, we can see it taking a long time to make meaningful progress on these objectives, which voters may not have patience for. It will also be important to manage the expectations of people using digital channels rather than person-to-person interactions to reduce the amount of conversations and opportunities for confusion.
If the plan is implemented well, the future is very positive for patients, but there are a number of things the Government will need to consider and overcome.