How open source can help the NHS navigate tech regulations

While technology is playing an increasingly important role in how NHS trusts and bodies provide care and operate, there are many challenges services face when looking to implement new tech solutions.

One of these is navigating governance surrounding the procurement, development, implementation of digital platforms. Regulations such as the Digital Technology Assessment Criteria (DTAC), developed by NHSX to ensure new technologies meet a minimum baseline standards, and the National Data Guardian (NDG)’s Data Security Standards, which apply to every organisation handling health and social care information, are just two in a range of highly detailed regulations with complicated standards that procurers and providers need to ensure are met before a solution can be used.

With so many different regulations out there, NHS organisations and staff may be unaware of what a digital platform needs to adhere to in order to be activated, which can come at a huge cost to the project. For example, if a hospital procures an expensive solution which it then spends a large amount of time and money on developing, only to find out that it can’t be used, valuable and limited manpower and funding has been wasted to install a technology that is ultimately useless.

To address this, NHS bodies need support and access to information that will help them understand if a tech platform meets regulatory standards. One way this can be achieved is by learning from other bodies. There are many examples of hospitals, CCGs and trusts which have successfully implemented digital solutions that have met all the necessary requirements and are producing huge benefits to services, patients and staff alike.

If NHS organisations looking to put in place identical platforms which produce the same outcomes were able to see how the successful body managed the implementation of the solution and met regulatory requirements, this would allow them to replicate the process and ensure they can also install the technology in the right way.

Sharing knowledge on how to conduct a successful, compliant digital project could produce huge benefits to the service, including cost savings across the entire healthcare sector while at the same time ensuring as many of these digital projects as possible are a success.

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With a potential solution identified here in healthcare organisations learning from one another, the question is now how can we make this sort of collaboration possible? Using the principles of Open Standards is outlined as a key requirement in Government, but are suppliers really adopting them? Far too often the information regarding the design of new technologies and how this was successfully achieved is locked away and unable to be accessed by others seeking to learn from it.

By adopting Open Standard principles to digital projects – where other hospitals and trusts can freely access the work that was done from the network of hospitals and trusts – perhaps we take collaboration to a new, open level. Be it the user research and service design artefacts to the clinical safety case and hazard log, having unfettered access to what was used and what was achieved means the barriers to digital innovation can be removed and embraced by everyone across the NHS.

If we want to make these technology projects truly open and available to benefit all within our healthcare system, digital partners have an important role to play. Solution providers cannot be tying down customers with platforms that hide the technologies and processes that made them so successful. They need to be working with the NHS to explain how making their tech solutions open can benefit their fellow service providers and work with them to make the processes accessible to all those that want to learn from them.

At the same time, education is key. When embarking on a digital project, providers need to work with staff to educate them on regulations and the processes needed to be taken in order to ensure a platform meets requirements. This way, employees will be better prepared to understand and manage future technology, while at the same time be able to share this information with colleagues at other trusts or bodies, again opening up the process so that it benefits everyone.

Tech is becoming ever more vital to the NHS, whether it’s in primary, secondary or emergency care. As such, it’s vital that health bodies across the UK understand how to implement digital solutions effectively so that they meet regulations and don’t end up being costly and unusable. By learning from each other’s successes through sharing information on projects that went well and how this was achieved, as well as digital providers helping make this information accessible, we can make huge strides in accelerating the NHS’s digital evolution while also providing value to the health service for the benefit of us all.

Written by Hazel Jones, head of health at Made Tech

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