The House of Lords Select Committee issued a report on the long-term sustainability of the NHS last week, calling on the government to "make it clear" that the adoption of technology should be a "priority" for the NHS. The report suggests that by investing in new standardised technology, training staff and utilising digital tools in treatment, the NHS will be able to improve care and cut costs.
During evidence sessions, many reasons were suggested for the current digital discrepancy, such as "persistent cultures of complacency", however, much of the NHS's sluggish digital adoption can be explained by years of cuts and inadequate funding, as well as change coming slowing through the glacial institution.
Dr Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners, commented that the lack of technology is not due to laziness or disinterest, but rather insufficient tools. She said: "Healthcare professionals love technology generally; it is just getting standardised, joined-up systems that we can use across the board. We want to be able to communicate with each other efficiently and effectively".
Some experts in the sector, such as Professor Sir John Bell from the University of Oxford, have argued that financial incentives should be introduced. He cited the American healthcare system as an example of when reimbursement can be used as an incentive for digitisation.
Elsewhere in the report, data and cyber-security remain of "critical importance" as the failure to use information effectively has resulted in variations in patient outcomes. However, the PHG Foundation commented that "the existence of 'big data' is not enough".
"The health service is already awash with big data, but its inability to standardise it, aggregate it, share it, analyse it and then use it intelligently to drive changes in practice means that its impact on reducing cost and managing demand are limited," the non-profit organisation said.
The report also highlighted the care.data project. Andy Williams, chief executive of NHS Digital, said that its failure was caused by "a lack of public trust in the use of the data".
The report detailed trouble with big data further: "The failure of the care.data project illustrates the inevitable consequences of failing to grapple with important issues relating to personal privacy. NHS Digital and all those responsible for data sharing in the NHS should seek to engage the public effectively in advance of any future large-scale sharing of personal data.
"Public engagement on data sharing needs to become a priority at a local level for staff in hospitals and the community, and not be left to remote national bodies."
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