Healthcare organisations must take a joined-up approach and look for new ways to deliver integrated services both internally and externally.
That’s the opinion of Bill Fawcett, CIO at Leeds and York NHS Partnership Foundation Trust, who is pushing a digitisation agenda is his own organisation, is exploring how the cloud can be used as a platform to implement key applications across the trust, which provides specialist mental health and learning disability services, and out into the broader region.
It’s an approach that we addressed at Diginomica earlier this year when we spoke with Dylan Roberts, Chief Digital and Information Officer (CDIO) at Leeds City Council. Fawcett is a member of Roberts’ local CIO Council. And like Roberts, he believes a community-based ecosystem of like-minded IT leaders and organisations can deliver big benefits to citizens:
Collaborating across the city, and having a place-based approach, is really important to us. Separate institutions might have separate instances of the same product, but we’re actually unifying the tech, so that at the front end, the users just see what they need to see. That kind of approach gives us big opportunities across the city.
Fawcett points to the Leeds Care Record as a great example of cross-region collaboration. This joined-up digital care record runs across the city’s 350 practices and allows GPs to see information about conditions and requirements when a patient is in hospital. Fawcett says the power of collaboration can work in other areas too, including the provision of on-demand IT storage and services:
I'm not interested in data centres for the sake of it. I'm not one of those old-school people who really wants a nice, shiny data centre – that stuff can go into the cloud. So we're starting to move our data into Azure, because it will be cheaper in the long run, and because it will allow us to work across systems and develop a unified structure within the city.
Public sector cloud
Fawcett recognises that pushing digital transformation through the cloud in the public sector is not as straightforward as might be anticipated. While increasing numbers of public sector IT chiefs understand the power of delivering services through the cloud, he says users still need to be made comfortable when it comes to implementing systems on-demand.
A platform like VMware, says Fawcett, can be great for helping public sector organisations to stop having to worry about hosting an application on its own infrastructure. CIOs must demonstrate to healthcare staff that, as long as you have a device and secure access to the internet, you can access your core applications and data from any location. Fawcett argues awareness of that reality can be a game-changer – and, with the help of suppliers, public sector CIOs can deliver standardised, consistent services through the cloud:
We can start to look at things a lot more flexibly, rather than dogmatically saying everything has to be within our control. Bringing in a flexible infrastructure allows you to overlay some key technologies. We have probably 15 to 20 key applications that are really important. It's not that complex; we're not dealing with 400 or 500 apps, with lots of people coming up with their own ideas. It's pretty simple. If you can make those core 20 applications work well, and you can get the right kind of vendors around you, you’ve got a chance.
Some of those key apps include things like Big Hand dictation software, which has been rolled out across the trust and its IT users, and MedChart, an electronic prescribing and administration system. Fawcett says his current priority right now is preparations for the go-live of the trusts’ new CareDirector electronic patient record (EPR) from CareWorks in February next year. He is also just about to launch the procurement process for an electronic document management (EDM) system. As with his use of the cloud, Fawcett is eager to create a joined-up technology approach:
My EDM has to natively fit my EPR. I don't want to buy an EDM that sits somewhere else on some separate vehicle. I want the front line staff to be able to click into a system and see all the paper notes that historically you get in mental health and to be able to see that natively within the product.
Fawcett joined the trust as CIO in June 2015. In his four years at the trust, Fawcett has taken an outcomes-based approach to IT delivery, giving healthcare workers access to reliable devices and platforms. He says the key to delivering successful technologies is working in close harmony with those on the front line:
I haven’t got all the ideas; I’m new to this sector. It’s about getting in front of the consultants – standing in front of 50 of them and talking about my ideas, and challenging them about their preconceptions about technology. The people engagement process is as important as technology in my view.
Over the next 12 to 24 months, Fawcett expects the EPR to be live and the EDM to be procured, if not completed. He suggests the big benefit for front-line staff is that they would be able to access an integrated system with a single view of healthcare data. He believes this platform would provide the foundation for more innovation through the next decade. Once again, he says the role of suppliers will be key in helping to create benefits for his trust and other organisations in the local region:
I think the big opportunity is bringing together things like artificial intelligence, cloud technology and the Internet of Things. When you look at those technologies that are emerging now, and you start to look at those from a holistic perspective, then there are real opportunities there. I think we're a little bit away from it, but I think the suppliers have got the tech. What we're not really looking at is how we can harness that tech from a clinical perspective and to see how that can really change the game.