Selena Cooper, Director of Partners, at UKCloud

The real blocker to digital transformation in health and care

Selena Cooper, Director of Partners, at UKCloud looks at how digitisation is transforming healthcare.

Digitising healthcare is often regarded as a sure-fire way of enhancing services provided to patients and clinicians. Yet, with plenty of moving parts and many health and care-specific challenges, it’s not as simple as buying a single tool and implementing it organisation-wide. The health and care ecosystem is so vast – each NHS Trust and entity has its own requirements and, crucially, its own important needs in a digitisation strategy.

From the outside looking in – or, from a patient or clinician’s point of view – it’s easy to ask why digital adoption within this sector up until this point has been relatively slow. Everybody experiences the benefit of technology in every other aspect of their lives and they expect it in health and care too. The coronavirus pandemic has added to the expectation and pleasingly, the sector has responded. For example, adopting remote consultations and monitoring capabilities, whilst enabling remote working for non-clinical staff.

But despite this modest success, there are nuanced challenges that an NHS Trust can face when looking to adopt digital initiatives; challenges which channel partners can look to alleviate through the services they offer and relationships built on trust.

Identifying the obstacles
It’s key to remember that NHS Trusts do want and need to digitise, but it can be a minefield. The WannaCry ransomware attack, which had such a crippling impact on mission-critical national infrastructures, exposed the UK’s lack of resilience. Vulnerability during these times can have even wider reaching consequences than before, with so many citizens currently relying heavily on access to the health service.

Given the situation, it’s unsurprising that health bodies have had to scramble for, in many cases, ‘quick-fix’ solutions, with stay-at-home orders in place and the mandatory shift to remote working earlier this year compromising security further. What’s clear, though, is that investment in software and infrastructure that will support medical innovation should still be a long-term vision.

Harnessing cloud-agnostic services to allow the NHS to offer more remote consultations and enable biometric wearables to monitor chronic conditions remotely, for example, will continue to alleviate pressure on an already stretched workforce. With the right infrastructure in place to power these new technologies and broad channel network expertise to tap into, the possibilities to do good are endless. Identifying the blockers to transformation in the health and care sector is straightforward: the whole procurement process is in the way.

Governance minefield
The entire process of digitising health services is, in itself, blocking its own path. Stringent and time-intensive procurement structures are in place, and they are largely immovable. These strict procedures exist to safeguard publicly-funded services against misplaced investment in technology that isn’t fit for purpose. With technology evolving and adapting at pace, NHS Trusts lag behind not due to an unwillingness to go digital, but by the strict governance behind every decision. Rightly so, as all agnostic services must have uncompromising protection and integrity. The sort of highly sensitive patient data the NHS holds must not be at risk of breach.

What’s more, these services simply can’t go down. Any solutions chosen, especially if deployed remotely, must be highly resilient to any potential targeted attacks. Internal IT teams are often viewed as the ‘blocker’ to tech adoption, but this overlooks the hoops they must jump through to get any of these shiny new tools onboarded at all. Teams need a provider who understands the software inside and out, and ensures that it can comply with the strict procurement procedures NHS Trusts need to follow to approve them. This is why a trusted channel and partner network is absolutely critical in the health sector.

Organisations need to be absolutely sure of the quality and compatibility of the solutions they’re looking to adopt and having that existing relationship with partners – which is essential within the channel – as it immediately adds assurance that the information they are being given is genuine and delivered by those that know both their own technology and the pain points of the NHS organisation in question. It’s not just the simple sales rhetoric you may receive when speaking to a vendor for a one-off purchase. Repeat business and lasting, profitable relationships are built on providing the right solutions and support.

Trust ecosystem
Not a new issue, procurement is a challenge for channel partners selling into the public healthcare sector; one they consistently come up against. Although it’s clear the roadblocks to health digitisation are many, investment in a secure infrastructure will be fundamental to cope with more digital tools and clinical applications being added to the healthcare armoury. Tapping into SaaS expertise along the way will also play a key role in digitising the NHS faster and at scale.

The value and genuine good that partnerships can bring citizens is worth the fight through the governance minefield. Underpinning this journey is trust; channel partners play a key role in digitising the public sector and delivering frontline services to those who truly need it, at a time when it could not be more important to fortify our health service with the right technology.

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