Showcased in recent headlines on AI and machine learning, creative application of digital technologies continues to grow and drive innovation in many industries. In no industry is there greater untapped potential, however, than health and care. Historically underserved and slow to adapt owing to its complexity, capacity and sometimes limited appetite for change, there is still a great deal of innovation happening at all levels of UK health services.
The Health Service Journal (HSJ) Digital awards hosted on June 22nd in Manchester, sought to recognise the best of this from the last year. Through researching the winning projects across 18 categories and analysing their respective trusts’ digital strategies, three things stood out.
1. What “Good” looks like in the Health and Care digital space takes many forms
Amidst headlines of AI and innovative technology, the key learning from research on digital leaders is that small and relatively simple measures can deliver real value to patients and staff alike. When replicated at scale, the potential benefits can be tremendous. In numerous winners across different categories, the digital technology in itself was not innovative but its application to health and care added value to patients and staff, and this the HSJ awards recognised. For instance, Midlands Partnership Foundation Trust, (Reducing Health Inequalities through Digital), developed the Sandbox mental health platform. This provides online mental health support for all children and young people in South Staffordshire via an innovative gaming-based approach. Despite the technology used not being unique or groundbreaking itself, it breaks down barriers to access and allows for more personalised care.
Mind Matters and Surrey and Borders Partnership Foundation Trust (Improving Mental Health through Digital) developed Limbic, an AI mental health chatbot available 24/7, which uses natural language processing to help people access support. It has saved on average 15 minutes of staff time per referral, with 98.72% of users who fed back stating that Limbic had been helpful.
2. NHS Trusts across the UK are at different stages along their digital maturity journeys
Cheshire and Merseyside ICS, (supporting Elective Recovery through Digital), implemented an AI-Backed System which allows surgeons to prioritise patients more accurately according to their specific clinical risk and the impacts of delays in treatment. University Hospitals Bristol and Weston Foundation Trust, (Digital Leader of the year), was recognised for its strides away from practices heavily dependent on paper-based records and analogue processes. Similarly, Northwest Ambulance Service Trusts Digital Strategy (Enhancing Workforce Engagement, Productivity and Wellbeing Through Digital) only recently began implementing paper-free solutions and the latest technology for emails and Microsoft products through Office 365. Whilst the ambition for the digital and data teams in Cheshire and Merseyside ICS to become the most digitally advanced and data-driven ICS in England by 2025 is commendable, other trusts which are progressing quickly are focusing more on improving digital literacy and improving access to existing resources through digital measures. It is worth remembering that digital solutions effective in one trust may not have the same results elsewhere as trusts differ in digital maturity levels.
3. Partnerships are a key success factor
Winners of the HSJ awards perfectly illustrate the benefits of partnerships and collaborative working. For instance, the Cheshire and Merseyside model which allows surgeons to prioritise patients more accurately according to clinical risk, was created by clinicians and operational teams at St Helens and Knowsley Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust but was developed thanks to a system from healthcare analytics and AI company, C2-Ai. The successful partnership and implementation of the model has led to an 8% reduction in emergency admissions, saving more than 125 bed days per 1,000 patients and £9 per patient per triage. The model has already been deployed across other ICSs and trusts and it is estimated that, if implemented widely, could save upwards of £2bn+ for the NHS and free up significant amounts of surgeon time toward operative care.
Effective Partnerships are not limited to the design side but can also take place on the delivery side, helping facilitate access. For instance, Sexual Health London (Optimising Clinical Pathways through Digital) is an online sexually transmitted infection testing service operated by a consortium of: Preventx, Chelsea and Westminster Hospitals Trust and Lloyds pharmacy Online Doctor. Their successful partnership has allowed the service to be commissioned by 30 of 33 London boroughs.