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A digital silver lining on the Covid-19 cloud

30/10/20

Helen Olsen Bedford Publisher

The pandemic has produced new opportunities for the use of digital and data in health and social care finds a new report from UKAuthority and Nutanix

One of the positive factors to emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic has been the acceleration of digital initiatives in health and social care. And as the initial wave of infections has subsided there has been a rising consensus that this should pave the way for further developments in using digital on a wider front in the sector.

But there are obstacles and serious issues need to be addressed to maintain the momentum.

This provided the subject for a recent debate among a group of public sector digital leaders and the production of a paper on the issue by UKAuthority, supported by Nutanix.

It picked up on the widely shared view in the sector that that the pandemic has speeded up digital transformation among organisations contributing to the response, and accelerated the integration of systems and data.

Among the trends to emerge has been a big increase in home working by non-medical staff, an increase in data sharing between different agencies, a recognition of how mobile technology can contribute to the wellbeing of hospital patients and people in care homes, and an increased use of data to track and control the spread of the pandemic.

Innovation at speed

Along with this, organisations have shown they can develop and implement digital initiatives at speed, now taking days to complete efforts that would previously have taken months. It has created a great sense of the capability to innovate for more thoroughly co-ordinated care.

This comes with demands around the practicalities, some of which are familiar while others have become more apparent in recent months. These include the need for good information governance in the use of data, the demand for good data quality, the difficulties in achieving technical interoperability, the skills to manage increasingly important cloud services, and the maintenance of strong defences against cyber threats.

In addition, the move to home working is making new demands on the way organisations design and manage their networks, with a shift in emphasis away from virtual private networks and data centres towards the internet.

People in the sector are generally positive about the prospects of meeting these challenges, and they have identified a handful of broad issues that will become important in taking things forward.

Changing risk criteria

One is the changing criteria around risk in digital initiatives, with the question of whether a higher level is acceptable when there is a desire to make progress more quickly. The public sector is often described as being risk averse by nature, but it has become less abstract as organisations have been confronted with the urgency of the situation. This is creating a situation in some areas of risk, notably around information governance, where it is not being given as much weight as previously.

Another is in the focus on place and communities. With health and social care both delivered by locally based organisations, there is likely to be a strong focus on a place based approach to innovation.

Related to this is the recognition that charities and community organisations provide a substantial element of care services. These have relationships with local councils and NHS bodies, sharing the understanding of local challenges, providing valuable information and often filling gaps in local service delivery.

Then comes the need for a constant attention to the user experience in designing products and services. While it is a familiar refrain, it was claimed in the debate that it is still often ignored in the public sector, seen as requiring a significant expense for marginal benefit. But if it is not kept prominent there is a danger that a project will lose its way and create a new set of problems.

There is also the fact that for most organisations the case for investment in digital is up against the need to spend on urgent demands in other areas, and it will always be in a competition for the distribution of money.

But the debate pointed to a change in its favour from the pandemic, with plenty of small, localised initiatives having quickly shown positive results. This has strengthened the understanding at board level about what digital and data can achieve, and added weight to the perspective that digital transformation can make a big difference to care over the coming years.

Innovators now have the opportunity to maintain the momentum.

Image from iStock, Natali Mis

 

For a more detail download the full paper below - 'A digital silver lining to the Covid-19 cloud', researched and written by UKAuthority in partnership with Nutanix

 

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