Top 5 biggest challenges for digital transformation in the NHS

From storing medical records online to the rise of surgical robotics and video diagnostics, digital transformation is both revolutionising patient care and enabling health organisations to reduce the amount of time staff spend on documentation and data entry.

Other developments likely to benefit the healthcare industry are augmented reality and virtual reality (e.g. surgeons being able to practice a surgery in a VR environment, using it as a training tool), artificial intelligence (e.g. diagnosis tools designed both for patients and doctors) and personalised medicines (e.g. where drugs can be tailored to an individual’s genetic code).

>See also: Why GDPR is an opportunity for digital transformation in the NHS

In terms of digitisation, the private sector has already come a long way. There are currently a range of online services available offering GP consultations, pharmacy and advice.

However, successful implementation of digital transformation in the NHS has posed a greater challenge and slower update.

Below are five of the biggest challenges that need to be addressed to enable uptake in both public and private sectors:

1. Changing human behaviour

Changing a piece of equipment or even software is relatively easy to achieve compared with persuading people to change the way that they work and to take the time to learn how to use new systems. This process needs to be carefully managed to ensure that the change is as easy for everyone to adapt to as possible and that people are incentivised to make the change.

People will also only use a new system if they see the gap that it fill or efficiency it creates – these messages need to be clearly transmitted. End user engagement from an early stage is critical to ensure that the technology answers their need and that the user interface is logical to them.

2. Interoperability

The lack of any agreed standards for interoperability for digital health systems creates much uncertainty for both NHS procurers and suppliers alike. Integrations and interfaces are then unnecessarily complex and risky.

>See also: Healthcare efficiency through technology

Without prescribed or accepted interfaces and open access initiatives, the industry risks walking into the creation of companies with data monopolies and systems in silos.

3. Reinventing the wheel

After the perceived failure of a centrally procured software system in NPfIT, IT strategy in the NHS turned to locally-led procurements. This is right to ensure that local needs are met, as these differ substantially in different areas of the country, but it has also led to many Clinical Commissioning Groups and Trusts trying to solve the same questions. A more joined up approach would save everyone effort and spread best practice in the healthcare industry.

4. Stringent data protection laws

GDPR is a challenge for all organisations which process a lot of personal data. The challenge is even greater in the NHS and its ecosystem due to its lack of centralisation, which means that there is a complex structure of data controllers and processors with many different policies, privacy notices and consents. The sensitivity of the data and the fact that much of its data is still paper-based makes it less easy to audit, control and access.

>See also: Digital technology is the ‘only way forward’ for NHS sustainability

The fundamental standards of protection for data in GDPR are not materially different from the Data Protection Act – the difference is in the rigour required to demonstrate compliance.

Given the different approaches across healthcare organisations to obtaining consent for processing under the current regime, it will be a challenge to harmonise the approach to make it easier for patients to understand what is happening with their data.

5. Ransomware attacks

Earlier this year, the worldwide ransomware outbreak WannaCry was the biggest cyber attack to have hit the NHS to date. In October, a government report stated that the NHS could have prevented the attack with ‘basic IT security’.

The increasing sophistication of ransomware attacks is a threat for all industries with increasing reliance on and use of technology. Historically, cyber security has not been at the top of many organisations’ agenda. That needs to change.

>See also: How to empower staff to accelerate digital transformation

Finding staff with the right skill set, educating employees on safety measures, updating known software vulnerabilities and ensuring that systems and processes have a secure design are all critical to implementing more rigorous security measures to address the risks of cyber threats.

Keeping abreast of updated technology and changing regulations is crucial to improve processes and to fit the needs of patients in the changing digital world. Both are trends here to stay, and which need to be tackled to keep healthcare in the twenty-first century.


Sourced by Jocelyn Paulley, director at Gowling WLG

Avatar photo

Nick Ismail

Nick Ismail is a former editor for Information Age (from 2018 to 2022) before moving on to become Global Head of Brand Journalism at HCLTech. He has a particular interest in smart technologies, AI and...