Recently, a group of NHS professionals gathered at the Imperial War Museum in Manchester to discuss the use of data and digital in healthcare. The output of the lively and insightful discussion became our latest ExtraMed white paper.
The participants included NHS professionals with frontline experience, generously offering their valuable insight and experience on several topics:
How well are we using data at the point of care?
What could we add (or remove) to improve care at the bedside?
What challenges do you face in trying to use information at the point of care?
Does technology actually improve care?
1. Lack of engagement is a big problem
Our experts were in unison: lack of engagement with technology is possibly the biggest challenge of all and hinders users getting the most out of digital technology at the point of care.
Age, the fact that IT education has never been part of medical training, and limited systems training all contribute to this lack of engagement. And, if users aren’t using the technology at their disposal effectively it lowers its value which becomes a vicious cycle.
It’s clear technology itself needs to become much more intuitive to use – akin to the experience of consumer IT (tablets and phones) which doesn’t require training:
“We bank and shop online at home. Then we come into work and sit in front of a computer – why aren’t we using consumer technology and interfaces?” a participant asked.
Yet even when software is intuitive, the culture may need to be addressed. One participant noted that at her trust, one where ExtraMed patient flow is deployed,
nurses depend on the system, but clinicians don’t touch it. This was said to be: “partly because of a refusal to engage.”
2. Clinicians and patients should be involved in system design
Those that had more positive experiences said that clinical involvement from an early stage was crucial for success. Healthcare staff are best placed to understand the environment in which healthcare is delivered and patients are crucial to understanding how care is received so it makes sense that getting representatives from every level directly involved in system design would be key to producing a bespoke, intuitive offering.
3. Data should be clear, simple and balanced
Systems must provide the right balance of information at the right time to guard against information overload. Staff are using a mixture of digital and non-digital systems and, when they are using digital systems, having to juggle multiple systems, passwords and user experiences.
One participant noted: “If I have 10 patients to see, I might be logging in to 10 different systems. Time pressure is a massive issue.”
The Round Table agreed that, ideally, all data should be integrated, relevant and presented on one screen at the point of care and the goal should be to spend as much time as possible delivering “hands-on care” to patients. It stands to reason that people want technology in healthcare that improves rather than inhibits the ability to be hands-on.
4. Tech should be easy to learn and introduced carefully
It isn’t just the fear of change, although that is certainly a factor, but we must be careful not to assume everyone is tech-savvy. Technology can be a massive challenge for people who have only ever delivered patient care, at any level.
It’s most effective to introduce new technology sensitively and respectively, with a real focus on delivering intuitive user experiences.
5. Data should be accessible to patients to enable better self-care
Data at the point of care represents a real opportunity to get patients more involved. As one participant put it: “It’s our duty as NHS professionals to engage with patients. To help them understand their case and their care so that they can take ownership of their healthcare in the future.”
Patients can feel vulnerable in part “because they have everything taken away from them, including control and access to information”. Sharing a screen with the patient can be helpful if it provides information and orientation to inform and empower.
The group’s consensus was that the impact of digital technology so far is overwhelmingly positive when it’s used well, but that there is still a long way to go and great potential for improvement. It was also considered highly important to consider benefits vs. challenges and avoid seeing risk as an automatic barrier to change. And that the real objective “carving out time to care” should always be kept in mind.