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COVID-19 response raises the bar for health IT going forward

As director of professional services at Allscripts UK, my team expects to do more faster once the current public health emergency subsides. We’re also hearing trusts say that they don’t want to go back to the old ways of working either.

These observations are based on how we saw National Health Service trusts accelerate preparations for COVID-19 in the first weeks of March. Health IT systems that are easily customizable enabled users to be ready for the impact they experienced.

Dr Anna Bayes, Allscripts UK medical director blogged recently about the way in which trusts used technology to identify patients with COVID-19, support their treatment, and help protect their staff. The help that the professional services team offered has been on the support side.

Some trusts have diverted in-house IT teams onto immediate priorities, such as making sure that clinicians can work from home and hold virtual clinics with patients. That has impacted their ability to progress other projects, so we have tried to support them by reallocating resources so they are not carrying the costs of our time.

However, plenty of trusts are pushing ahead on IT projects. In the week that Prime Minister Boris Johnson told everybody to “stay at home,” Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust went live with e-observations. That was because it could see the benefit of being able to conduct observations electronically instead of relying on paper should its hospitals reached capacity.

Working remotely really works  

We faced some challenges in supporting the go-live because it happened just as the advice on social distancing and travel was changing. As a result, we successfully supported the go-live remotely.

We set up a 24/7 virtual go-live office so Gloucestershire staff could drop in and escalate an issue to a video call if needed. And there was real partnership through a WhatsApp floorwalking group that often picked up issues before they were reported to our helpdesk.

Now, we are hearing trusts say they don’t want to go back to the old ways of working. There has been lots of discussion in the press about the way that clinicians embraced remote working and don’t want to go back to face-to-face clinics unless patients really need them.

Well, IT teams have also seen that they can be more efficient if they work remotely. There’s really no need for so many appointments and on-site meetings.

In the past, some trusts wondered how this will work for them. Now, they understand people don’t have to be on-site to deliver effectively. I think we can hit the sweet spot of showing of remote work vs. on-site work.

NHS IT is moving faster

Gloucestershire Hospitals is not the only organisation to push ahead with IT developments during the crisis. At the end of March, Bolton NHS Foundation Trust deployed SunriseTM as an electronic patient record for its Community 0-19 (school age population) service.

Meanwhile, The Dudley Group NHS Foundation Trust began using this time to direct acute information into dbMotionTM Solution, so data can be shared across its healthcare community. They continue to expand the data aggregation in the dbMotion Solution and are able to move at pace through what would normally be a lengthy governance process. That’s good to see, because I think there will be a major increase in data sharing as we emerge from this crisis.

All are good examples of how the COVID-19 response results in lowered barriers to the uptake of information technology.

Overall, the pandemic accelerated the speed at which we can do things for the NHS. Projects that might have taken months or even years to deliver have been executed in weeks or even days.

We will all need to change our priorities, to respond to new customer demands and emerging restructuring that will be inevitable, and we will need to refine the way that we deliver to make the most of remote and on-site working. Most of all, we will all need to be ready to meet new expectations.

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