OPINION: Top 10 Tips To Meet The Digital Challenge
Written by Dr Paul Shannon, Consultant Anaesthetist in the NHS and Medical Director at CSC
Following health secretary Jeremy Hunt’s recent challenge to the NHS to ‘go paperless’ by 2018, doctors and hospital executives are going to need IT tools to coordinate care electronically.
Care coordination is essential to avoid duplicate treatment and to prevent medical errors. Whether it is a GP, hospital, other healthcare provider or local authority, they are all at different levels of implementing IT. In fact, many are still manually posting or transporting health records to other members of care teams, which can take days. Even if a patient moves from one doctor to another down the corridor in a medical building, the patient may have to carry records in a paper folder rather than their being accessed or transmitted digitally.
For healthcare providers to properly exchange information and coordinate care, it should be in “near-real time”. A phone or fax machine may not be good enough but there are numerous ways that the NHS can rise to the health secretary’s challenge >>>
#1. Make more use of existing, national tools that are already up and running
a. NHSmail is a secure, encrypted email service that can be used instead of ‘inhouse’ email systems. It means that secure emails containing patient-identifiable data (PID) can be safely sent anywhere within the NHS. NHSmail 2 is coming soon, which will have even more functionality. There’s really no need to send letters and faxes to colleagues anymore!
b. Choose and Book (CAB). About 60 percent of all first outpatient referrals are now done through CAB. Make it 100 percent to get the most benefit. Consider the other functionality within the application such as the ‘Advice and Guidance’ section to avoid inappropriate referrals.
c. Summary Care Record. A surprising amount of useful clinical information can be found here. The more it’s used, the more useful it becomes.
#2. Automate the discharge summary. It’s virtually impossible to attain the NHS standard of discharge summaries to GPs within 24 hours without using electronic systems. A good electronic patient record system should permit electronic discharge summaries to be sent to GP systems easily.
#3. ePrescribing. This is a high-impact patient safety issue; no more problems with doctors’ notorious handwriting. ePrescribing can be ‘standalone’ or integrated into an EPR. It may be best to start with a gradual roll-out in enthusiastic areas, rather than a ‘big bang’ approach. Once the benefits are seen, clinicians will clamour for it in other areas.
#4. View results electronically instead of printing out paper. Get into the habit of accessing pathology and radiology results without printing out paper and consider using a Single Sign On tool so that you don’t have to remember multiple passwords.
#5. Exploit ‘departmental’ systems to the maximum. For example, if your trust has a theatre management system, see if you can use it to record the clinical record. A relatively easy start is the surgical operation note. But, make sure that any ‘bespoke’ systems can talk to others using Health Level 7 standards.
#6. Don’t duplicate. Paper records are not more valid than electronic ones, so you don’t have to do both. If you’re told to write paper records and create electronic ones, someone’s missed the point. One Consultant I heard of confiscated all the pens of her trainees when they came to her clinic.
#7. Know your ‘business continuity’ policy. Inevitably there will be times when electronic systems are not available, so you need to have robust alternatives in place just in case.
#8. Develop a ‘portal’ mentality. This means automatically pulling information from multiple sources into a single area. There are various ways of achieving this, but make sure the patient is the ‘context’, that is, you only view information about one patient at a time. This is an important patient safety factor in order to avoid confusion.
#9. Find out about your trust’s IT strategy. Your IT department needs your input. Do you have a clinical lead for IT, or even a chief clinical information officer (CCIO)? Could you do it? You don’t need to be a ‘techy’ or have a Master’s in Informatics; this is about improving patient care, it’s not an IT project.
#10. Enjoy the digital revolution. The NHS is ‘data rich but information poor’. In the era of ‘big data’, find out ways of exploiting data for patient benefit and/or professional development. For example, how do you compare against your colleagues, other trusts, international best practice? Annual appraisal and revalidation requires individual, practitioner-level information, and nobody wants the bottom of the league table.
The future of pharma: personalised healthcare
Ever since the very first healthcare systems were created, the earliest documented being in ancient Egypt, medical professionals have had a reactionary approach to finding cures for ailments. That is to say that a solution is sought after someone has become sick, using whatever methods were thought to work at the time. Thousands of years later, with advances in genomics and molecular modelling, emphasis is starting to shift towards preventative, personalised healthcare rather than "sick care".
This move is led by data analytics as well as genetic sequencing to inform decision-making, which can ultimately lead to more individualised care. "Identifying the right data will support personalised health outcomes", explains Chris Easton, who is Takeda’s Senior Director and Global Commercial Lead, specialising in personalised health and innovation and applying this to rare blood disorders. "It's about how we can empower patients, interpret data and then apply it."
"The historic pharma model, in a very simplified form, is: a patient has symptoms, gets diagnosed, and gets given drugs for symptoms", Easton says. "Now, with holistic patient care in mind, it's much more about the additional components to care that would make a difference. Yes, drug therapy is one of them, but likewise, it's okay to talk about mental health, as the impact of chronic diseases means often there is a mental health challenge. So what can we do to build a mental health and physical health support package, both of which have data associated with them, that we can use together?"
By way of example, Easton cites the approach taken by elite athletes and astronauts. "Their model is to keep as healthy as possible. If someone on a space mission gets a cold, they're off the mission - it's not affordable to send someone to space that might have a health issue. If you look at footballers and runners, their coaches maintain them at the highest level, and they're using technology and wearables to help monitor their health so that they can make adjustments to stay at peak level for as long as possible."
The aim is to provide a complete, holistic package of care, which Easton acknowledges will pose some challenges to the pharmaceutical sector. "Our model is not necessarily that of a total care package. It's drug therapy or device and technology support therapy. So some things will need to evolve, and that's part of what my role is about."
One way of effecting this change is by collaborating with other organisations, not necessarily limited to healthcare and life sciences. "I'm a big advocate of partnerships and joint ventures. For the pharma sector, these are traditionally through universities and research houses, but I think we need to be willing to look outside the box and look for scalable and transferable technology that is used in everyday life."
"An example is the smartphone you probably have sitting on your desk or the smartwatch you're wearing. These are gathering data all the time. There are probably hundreds of data points that we could use, just from our everyday technology", Easton adds.
While apps like Apple Health, Google Health, and devices like Fitbit collect data, they could be linked to WhatsApp, WeChat or Telegraph to connect to members of a user's care team if a health issue arises. "It's using technology that is already embedded in our lives, that would enable us to share information and photographs. For example, if your knee is swelling and you want to ask a doctor for their opinion, you can send an image, then share the log from your treatment, and it becomes a way of integrating and sharing information."
Shifting towards preventative medicine is one of Takeda's strategic goals for the next few years. An example of how this could work is how people affected by Von Willebrand disease could be supported. This lifelong bleeding disorder prevents blood from clotting and particularly affects girls and women, causing menstrual bleeding to be excessively long and heavy, which has a big impact on their quality of life.
"It's a hereditary disorder, so many women in a family can be affected, but it's hard to diagnose", Easton explains. However, using existing technology that tracks the menstrual cycle via a smartphone perhaps an alert can be issued to let the user know when it's time to start taking replacement therapy for Von Willebrand.
"This means that by the time a period begins, Von Willebrand levels are normalised, and menstrual flow goes down to normal levels. That's actually a massive outcome for someone who has been living with two-week-long periods that bleed through clothing every month. Suddenly for just four or five days, they can use regular tampons and pads. That's a huge improvement to life."
The field of rare blood disorders typically hasn't seen the same amount of attention focused on it - at least in terms of tech innovation - as other chronic illnesses like diabetes. "Rare blood disorders are difficult to show returns on because you've got small patient numbers and often high costs. But if we think about the total patient journey, we could use technology to triage vast numbers of patients and data into more specific diagnosis boxes, so that what is then presented to physicians are smaller groups, of the more likely issues."
Data analysis could, for instance, show that the combination of headaches, nausea and lethargy equates to a specific type of bleeding disorder. "You can start to put these things in categories", Easton says. "And then you're able to do differential diagnosis. But ultimately, what you're trying to do is get a faster, more accurate diagnosis, leading to a specific therapy."
This would be more efficient than administering plasma-based treatments, for example. "A lot of bleeding disorders are caused by a deficiency of something", Easton explains. "There is a lot of combination therapy in blood disorders when you give people plasma-based products because plasma is like the golden chalice of medicine. It has a bit of everything you need. In some cases, when you don't know what the disorder is, this can help patients, but it's not the most precise way of doing it."
"That's one of the ways having very clear diagnostic support linked to advanced direct therapy can help, only treating what you need to. From a payer's perspective, it's very targeted, and there's no wasting money and resources on patients being hospitalised for things that are not necessary."
"If you go back 15-20 years, market access to the pharmaceutical industry was the emerging trend", Easton adds. "We saw all these diagrams of physician decision-making coming down and payer decision-making going up. Now we have another divergence of change, which is the application of technology to support personalised care. This is one of the transformative pieces of pharma right now, and there are a lot of good companies, big and small, being very intelligent about how they're approaching it and investing in those spaces. There's definitely a community building."