Three factors influence the SCC approach to working with NHS organisations on new solutions, writes Damon Crawford, practice director of SCC Hyperscale.
Intense pressures on the health service are creating the need for innovations in which digital has to be a core element.
There is a growing awareness of how developments such as virtual wards and self-care apps can help to ease the pressures and produce better outcomes for patients. But there are also barriers to overcome and a sense they are based on culture as much as technology.
It is something we at SCC have found in our role as an enabler to innovation in the sector, working with NHS organisations to overcome the barriers and deliver new digital approaches to healthcare.
There are three key factors in approaching the challenges. One is that much can be achieved through the use of cloud services, especially those provided by the hyperscalers – the major cloud service providers that offer not just applications but platforms and infrastructure for developing services.
Their platforms have the strength, range of capabilities and flexibility to provide strong foundations for innovation; and the companies can provide large capacities for data storage and processing, strong cyber security and internal skills.
A second factor is a need to deal with legacy problems. A recent analysis of our work with the public sector showed that, while around 65% is focused on innovation, a substantial 35% is in dealing with issues caused by earlier, misdirected efforts to move applications and workloads to the public cloud.
This can derive from organisational issues – such as gaps between IT teams and the informatics departments responsible for reporting – and requires the building of a good working relationship between technology and business teams to give users power over the decisions on how technology solutions will be developed and deployed.
Ask basic questions
Third is that efforts should never begin with bringing a specific technology to the forefront, but with basic questions and problems, so the teams can work backwards towards a digital solution that delivers positive outcomes. This is what drives real innovation and should be a major factor supporting the health service through its challenges.
It informs the approach taken at the Digital Hub for innovation in healthcare set up by SCC in partnership with South Warwickshire University NHS Foundation Trust, located within Stratford Hospital and through which we run workshops with clinicians on problems and opportunities.
Three key questions are asked every time: What keeps you up at night? What problems do you run into on a daily basis? And what ideas do you have for improvements with better digital care?
With the answers to these we create a pipeline of work based on whether a project has the potential to produce better outcomes and if it is deliverable; then through an agile but disciplined process we work towards a practical solution for a problem.
This has so far led to innovation sprints on subjects such as using digital for resilience in domiciliary care, helping people recover from effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, achieving net zero carbon emissions in healthcare, embedding prevention into every service line, and using technology in out-of-hospital services.
Reducing emergency attendances
A number of specific projects stand out. One has come in response to estimates that around 75% of attendances in emergency departments do not really need to be there, and that a digital triage app could do a lot to reduce the number. This could be a great asset in supporting self-care.
Another is in using sensors with the MySense wellbeing analytics platform to help elderly and vulnerable patients stay in their homes for longer, rather than contributing to the 10% who account for 50% of bed days in hospitals. The sensors can be fitted to beds, doors, kettles, wearables and other devices, first to develop a digital profile of how an individual behaves, then to spot signs of decline or emergencies and alert care workers to the need for an intervention.
A similar solution has been applied to supporting dementia patients and in trials produced reductions of 80% in hospital appointments, 58% in GP appointments, 53% in 999 calls, 43% in unnecessary visits from care teams and 100% in 111 calls.
Clinical sensors that monitor vital signs can also be applied, enabling the patient to stay at home and saving nurses from the manual recording of the data.
There is also work on reducing the need for other mundane tasks. We are involved in looking at the use of chatbots with an AI triage that patients can use to see if they need a wheelchair, reducing the pressure on wheelchair teams in hospitals. We are also exploring the potential of automated messages to patients for ‘good news’ test results.
Printing a 3D heart
To demonstrate the full ambition of innovation in healthcare, we can cite the development of 3D printing for medical purposes.
There is a case of baby born with a complex heart defect, on which surgeons were hesitant to operate based on CT or MRI scans. But it has been possible to ingest the data from those scans into a 3D printing platform that produced a physical and detailed model of the heart that the surgeons were able to gradually pull apart to work out the best approach for the operation – which proved successful and has subsequently given the little girl a life.
This can be done through a print-as-a-service approach that can deliver a model within 48 hours at a cost of no more than £500.
These are part of SCC’s broader effort with NHS organisations on a range of projects. They include: delivering statutory reporting as a managed service on a cloud infrastructure; the provision of solutions for home monitoring of patients and virtual wards; the delivery of a Power BI adoption roadmap for ICSs; and the development of digital first healthcare solutions.
We are also taking steps in sustainability through a partnership with the Birmingham Energy Innovation Centre to help the NHS move towards net zero. They include developing a series of digital capabilities covering data, systems and infrastructure and using a number of technologies to help NHS bodies understand their sustainability footprints, set goals and achieve them.
An important element of this is the need to delve into the supply chain. At SCC we established that is where 85% of our own footprint lay and it is likely to be highly relevant to the NHS.
We can reinforce this intent with a recycling facility that can refurbish some computer hardware for re-use, and recycle materials from much of the rest. This comes with the secure erasing of data and degaussing – eliminating any remnant magnetic field – in line with government physical destruction certification.
There is much to explore and no doubt new challenges will arise, but these examples show how those foundations support innovation that improves the lives of patients and contribute to a sustainable health service for the future.
If you would like to get in touch with a SCC specialist to learn more or to book a meeting with us at our Digital Innovation Hub please, email [email protected]
A new UKAuthority and SCC briefing paper explores the opportunities and challenges in harnessing cloud services in the integration of health and social care.DOWNLOAD BRIEFING PAPER