In an integrated digital world this proven technology can provide a foundation for health and social care centred on the individual, argues Microsoft’s Health & Social Care specialist, Phil Rawlinson.
Integration is now a big word in the care arena. There is a momentum towards healthcare organisations aligning their efforts to meet the needs of individual patients, with an understanding that technology will play a major role in making it possible.
It extends to the integration of health and social care, one of the key elements of the Health and Social Care Act 2012. Many people are supported by NHS and social services, and it takes a coordination of the two to provide the best care for them and to minimise the demands on the public sector.
Urgency for change
The need for a radical change is becoming more urgent as the population becomes older, the demand for healthcare increases, the squeeze on public spending continues and the pressure grows on the NHS to increase its productivity. The Office for Budget Responsibility has estimated NHS efficiency gains at 0.8% annually, but the government wants 2% per year for the rest of the decade, possibly rising to 3%.
This will demand a better integration of care to ensure the patient moves smoothly through the system, to cut the duplication of effort and prevent breakdowns in support when a patient moves from one organisation to another. It has to be done within the NHS, between GPs, clinical commissioning groups, hospitals and a myriad of support services; and between health and social care organisations, to prevent the vulnerable becoming lost when moving from one to the other – a failure that often creates a series of new problems.
This is going to be a stiff test in which IT will play a crucial role. It can provide savings in support functions such as workforce management and procurement, through supporting the coordination of care for individual patients, and providing the data for public health initiatives.
The government has an ambition for all care services funded by the NHS to have interoperable IT systems by 2020, incorporating clinician systems and new types of data from areas such as biometrics and the human genome.
But a familiar technology can also provide a foundation for the change: customer relationship management (CRM) can bridge the gap between electronic medical records and other systems to provide the information needed by healthcare professionals and make patient care more efficient.
CRM has a number of functions that can improve productivity and help to provide better care. It can record all the interactions with a patient, from all the departments within an organisation and possibly other sources. It can combine these records with a workflow function to ensure that everybody receives the necessary reminders and notifications, ensuring there is no disruption in care when one professional takes over from another.
The self-service functions can help care professionals and patients. An online knowledgebase can provide quick answers to common questions, and a portal can enable people to access their health information, update personal details, make appointments and contact their care providers. Links to video conferencing and instant messaging can help professionals to coordinate care.
It can also provide an audit trail and data for tracking daily activities, monitoring overall performance and planning the allocation of resources. Underlying all this is the potential to increase staff productivity by freeing them from finding and recording information that the patient has already provided, taking out duplication and redundant steps in the care process.
Variety and flexibility
The technology has developed to the point where it provides the variety and flexibility for organisations to use it in many contexts, and to provide the breadth of information and transparency that will support a better integration of care.
It is good news that NHS organisations can make their own technology choices, now free of the past constraints of the National Programme for IT. Supporting the integration between each other and with social care providers is going to be a major factor in dictating those choices, and CRM is poised to play an important role.
We are in a good place to begin the next big advance in using IT to provide better care.
Download Microsoft's white paper on the future of health and social care integration now: