Healthcare / Pharmaceutical

Software applications relating to the healthcare supply chain which promote the effective management of supply chain resources.

A technology-driven NHS requires interoperability and adoption of data standards

19-Feb-2019
A technology-driven NHS requires interoperability and adoption of data standards
Matt Hancock’s vision for a technology-driven NHS is embedded throughout NHS England’s Long-Term plan. A utopian vision for an NHS that delivers mainstream digitally-enabled care is set out, with commitments to provide online appointments, online patient records, and the roll-out of the NHS app, as well as ambitions to achieve £400m of savings through automating ‘back-office’, operational, and transactional systems.

In all the excitement it is easy to forget that a technology-driven NHS will only change the face of care if it allows for the exchange of data and information in real-time and makes it accessible to all who need it.

It can mean a patient monitoring their condition at home to share with the consultant, a commissioner tracking the number of available beds across numerous sites, or a procurement manager being alerted that the hospital is running low on defibrillators.

To reiterate, a technology driven NHS simply requires data and information to be sent across the system when it’s needed, so it can be accessed and understood by the person who needs it. But for this to happen two fundamental enablers need to be in place: interoperability and adoption of data standards.

Interoperability is the ability of different information technology systems and software applications to communicate, exchange data, and use the information that has been exchanged.

Data standards mean that there is a clear understanding of how data is represented, and that you receive it in a form you expected. Simply put, you can rely on the data you’re sharing.

To sum up, systems need to able to speak to each other in the same language and with any other barriers being removed.

You’d think this was a given, but at the moment, technology systems in the NHS are developed by competitive technology companies. Some of these systems can prevent you sharing data and information to systems owned by their competitors, this is often through commercial rather than technical barriers. Furthermore, some technology companies do not adhere completely to the mandated data standards, meaning the form and quality of data is variable. The result is workarounds or manual processes are often required to be implemented across the supply chain to accommodate this.

Not all companies though. Virtualstock as an example provide a procurement platform that brings together hospitals and suppliers in a common marketplace. Interoperability is fundamental to how the Edge4Health links organisations and enables them to share their product data across a range of different systems. The company also adheres to the highest data standards, including the NHS mandated GS1 standards, this includes the universal GTIN barcode system which means product data sourced from our solution can be traced from manufacturer to end user by anyone in the supply chain.

Virtualstock knows that there needs to be digital procurement systems that can operate across the NHS, so hospitals and suppliers can share data and information in real-time, regardless of which technology company they’re using. The same is true of all technology in the NHS, be it online booking systems, a health app, or an e-rostering system. Unless this data can be shared and universally understood across the NHS, the system as whole will never be truly technology driven and manual and inefficient work arounds will continue to be the norm.

So, in order to deliver the vision, the barriers of interoperability need to be removed, and the NHS should use all the necessary levers to hold these companies to account. This is no mean feat, but if achieved the NHS could also become a world leader as the first truly technology driven health system, which will ultimately benefit us all.