The NHS and Interoperability - The time is now

The time is now for healthcare interoperability in the UK. And it is down to all of us to pull together to ensure this happens. Robin Breslin, Business Development Manager UK & Ireland at Forcare, explains how.

Integrated communicating computer systems permeate our modern world. Ever since the advent of the internet we have seen the speed up of computerized communications and interoperable working. But not so in the NHS. Why not? Even with the communications acceleration provided by mobile devices there has been slow adoption in the NHS. It is certainly not for want of ambition or desire in the NHS, and the reasons are not simply technological. But luckily, we are now witnessing a real increase in momentum in Healthcare Interoperability.

Achieving true healthcare interoperability

Interoperability is not just simple integration, but a situation where systems are seamlessly connected and can communicate and operate freely with each other. Interoperability is achieved when information relevant to the end user is successfully delivered from its source to the user environment regardless of the nature of the source system, the end user system or any intervening systems. For Healthcare I add some implicit requirements in this; that the information is timely (there when you need it) and accurate (left leg versus right leg). Of course the use of the information must fully reflect the privacy and consent wishes of the patient.

STPs will carry forward the healthcare community’s drive towards interoperability

The demand for interoperability is continually increasing. We all share the desire to empower patients through access to (and contribution to) their own health records. The political and institutional will to overcome past problems has increased enormously. All together we are witnessing a real increase in momentum in Healthcare Interoperability in the UK.

The UK Government has set in place 44 regional initiatives across the UK to take an over-arching view of healthcare, and to rationalise and harmonize the provision of healthcare services. They are charged with making Sustainability and Transformation Plans for their regions, these are the STP initiatives. The advent of the STPs in the UK has provided a political, and very likely a commercial, vehicle to carry forward the healthcare community’s drive towards interoperability. There is a mood of optimism now among all those working in healthcare information. Seizing on this mood is the responsibility of all of us and provides a recipe for success when it comes to an information strategy for the STPs.

An information strategy for the STPs: using open standards

Open standards for interoperability is the bedrock upon which successful shared healthcare services can be built. From the outset it is hard to see which systems specifically are going to be important as we move forward into a shared care environment. This means the platform needs to be open to change, open for new and future systems to work in the same environment. Openness in this way leads to the ‘open systems’ requirement – for the long game, and future proofing. Even if the STPs eventually change to other organisations, the need for shared resources in healthcare is not going to disappear.

The use of international open standards such as XDS and FHIR provides a globally proven template to achieve real interoperability (and it carries with it the essential concepts of patient privacy and consent). An open information platform will provide a foundation for STPs to build their healthcare information upon. It will provide open choice (best of breed) of suppliers and vendors - each plugging straight into the open platform. It will provide a free flow of information, will support mobile working and underpin clinical work with expert information. Ultimately it will allow patient access to information, and patient empowerment. Controlling the data highway through open standards will open up all the data sources connected to the ecosystem for population health management and business intelligence – without vendor lock-in.

A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity

The clarity of this opportunity makes it imperative to act. For UK Healthcare this could be seen as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to bring the NHS and UK Healthcare into the 21st century. In a time of economic pressure and uncertainty, taking this opportunity to bring information-driven efficiency into UK Healthcare is a must. It is the reason why an open standards platform must underpin the success of the STPs.

For more information, please visit our website and download our whitepaper about the NHS and interoperability.

Robin Breslin
Business Development Manager UK & Ireland at Forcare

07852 886314

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