Anyone working in the UK healthcare industry understands the growing challenge the NHS and other organisations are having to balance – an ageing population, increasing ill health due to lifestyle and ever growing budget constraints.

This balancing act is a key driver behind NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens’ Five Year Forward Plan, which was published in 2014. And with the healthcare industry increasingly looking for ways to meet rising demands with fewer resources, digital solutions are becoming increasingly valuable.

From delivering primary care at scale to securing seven day services, digital solutions can help the Health sector meet the rising demands of citizens and deliver the government’s ‘digital by default’ strategy.

No-one understands this more than the Chief Clinical Information Officers in the NHS. As part of the team responsible for delivering effective IT infrastructures that can manage business intelligence for internal use and support and enable a Trust’s service delivery, understanding the key benefits of the latest digital solutions and how they can transform services is vital.

Understanding the Cloud

As we discussed in the first instalment of our blog series on Cloud in health, Cloud adoption rates in the UK public sector is continuing to grow as a result of the government’s Cloud First policy for public sector IT.

According to a recent Kable report ‘XaaS technologies in the UK Public Sector’, Cloud software and services will represent 3.8% of the circa £14.5bn public sector technology expenditure by 2018/19.

As part of a wider series on the benefits of Cloud computing, we take a look at how some NHS Trusts have used the Cloud to transform their services.

Testing innovative solutions quickly and cheaply

In 2015, Netflix – the global provider of streaming movies and TV series – added an estimated 1.8 million UK members according to Enders Analysis.

What makes the streaming provider so successful? It’s drive to innovate quickly and continuously.

In 2015, former cabinet minister Francis Maude referenced Netflix in a wider speech on the need for public sector organisations to improve their willingness to innovate, and earlier this year Government Digital Services executive director Stephen Foreshew-Cain stressed the importance of being bolder when it comes to digital.

Since 2015, the UK health sector has seen a rise in start-up ventures and NHS Trusts creating apps to help people improve service delivery – so much so that NHS England launched an apps library to help people find appropriate programmes to monitor their health.

However, while innovation can help deliver cost efficiencies, the process of trying innovative solutions is expensive for a lot of NHS organisations.

Finding ways to use technology such as the Cloud to test new solutions and processes at a lower cost would allow Trusts to try new projects more often. This then opens up the opportunity to explore new open source and enterprise technologies to the benefit of the Trust.

The Code4Health initiative, started by NHS England,  is a key example of how innovation doesn’t have to be expensive.

One of the chief aims of the programme, which aims to connect health & social care practitioners with software developers, is enabling both the software and healthcare industries to better understand each other needs and requirements.

Using open source technology in the Cloud, the initiative allows developers to find new, innovative and economical ways to provide new healthcare solutions straight away without the need for on-prem technology or IT support.

To find out more about how the Code4Health programme are leveraging the Microsoft Cloud, click here.

Improving online services with better infrastructure

With the introduction of e-referrals, online medical services, such as computerised cognitive behavioural therapy, and a move towards online administration processes, the ability to deliver services effectively is vital.

As citizens’ digital engagements rise, more and more patients are using online services –  in January 2015, NHS Choices alone reached an all-time-high figure of 52 million monthly visits (up from 43 million in January 2014) – and with greater use, the reputational and brand damage of a service disruption becomes more significant.

Getting the right digital infrastructure that can support services – as well as internal processes and data storage – is therefore key. Yet a lot of NHS organisations find it challenging to keep up with digital demands due to limited resources, IT staff or budget.

Finding a flexible system that allows users to access remotely, enables staff to update or fix online systems quickly and can be scaled up or down depending on traffic is one way to offset such resources limitations.

One such health organisation that has been able to transform their digital infrastructure is The East of England Collaborative Procurement Hub.

To find out more about how The East of England Collaborative Procurement Hub healthcare organization were able to leverage the benefits of the Microsoft Cloud, click here.

Reducing treatment delays by going mobile

While the NHS has been able to minimise treatment delays despite increasing budget pressures – in February 2016 half of patients waiting to receive treatment were seen within six weeks – ensuring timely, efficient and productive service delivery is increasingly challenging for NHS Trusts and organisations.

Indeed, according to recent NHS statistics the number of delayed days in a transfer of care alone had increased between February 2015 and February 2016.

Reducing delays across all areas of treatment in the NHS is a high priority not only for the Department for Health but for individual NHS Trusts looking to increase efficiency and improve patient treatment.

One such Trust is East Kent Hospitals University NHS, which has effectively reduced the treatment time in their renal department by developing a Cloud-first app that sends immediate alerts to key staff of a patient event while also providing a care management trail so the consultant or doctor is able to track who has treated the patient and ensure that they are directed to the best possible specialist care.

By sending such alerts, East Kent has not only reduced delays to informing consultants – who previously would have been updated following a ward round –  but has also reduced the time taken to start any necessary treatment as referral to specialised treatment or care can be recommended remotely rather than waiting for a consultant.

“The earlier identification of those sick patients has led to earlier treatment, allowing them to have a prompt effective treatment in a timely manner”, says Allyson Wren, Clinical Application Lead – Vital PAC East Kent Hospitals University NHS.

To find out more about how East Kent Hospitals University NHS were able to leverage the benefits of the Microsoft Cloud in collaboration with Careflow, click here.

What next?

With key digital initiatives such as the goal to get the NHS paperless by 2020 it is imperative that CCIOs understand that the Cloud is a key enabler to help and accelerate this transformation.

Many NHS organisation are reaping the benefits of leveraging the Microsoft Cloud to aid digital transformation. We are keen to understand your objectives and how we can help achieve them.

Find out more about health and the Cloud.