How to Establish Digital Support for an ICS by September

Integrated care systems (ICSs) are a key part of the NHS's long-term plan in the UK, and digitalisation is a crucial element for the ICSs to drive the working systems, connect health and care providers, improve outcomes, and put the citizens at the heart of their own care. 

The ICSs must implement basic digital support by this September. They also have to make sure that their new solutions will support any future ambitions, as well as the needs and expectations of all the different stakeholders involved in patient care and well-being. 

Any delays in the digitalisation processes will result in an increased burden on hospitals and, even worse, on patient outcomes, especially for patients with multi-morbidity who are in contact with multiple health-care professionals. Patients could thus experience issues in transitions of care due to poor communication and data flows, and this could continue to disrupt their lives and impact their well-being. 

While establishing digital capabilities and a future-proof infrastructure for an ICS, it makes no sense to replace existing solutions with ones that work. It is much more reasonable to reuse and maximise everything that currently works well, and enhance the IT environment by implementing a data driven digital health platform (DHP) with a standards-based, vendor-neutral clinical data repository. This is a robust and scalable foundation that would support the future digital ambitions of an ICS.

By implementing a digital health platform and shifting to data-level integration (away from app-to-app integration), ICSs will get the full control of structured clinical data, an ICS-wide normalised digital patient record, and will gradually start removing the existing technological barriers to unleash the full power of digital innovation and transformation. 

The result would be a digital healthcare region that could design a technology, organisation, and partnership ecosystem, as well as new models of care in a modular manner, so that it could quickly adapt to new needs or unexpected situations, such as the COVID-19 pandemic. 

To achieve the required milestones for a digital transformation of the ICS in 2021, and to be ready for the future, Better recommends a focused approach based on the best practices from the UK and across the globe.

  • Decide on a clinical priority for the ICS, so that it can deliver immediate benefits in improving care and maximising data fluidity across the ICS by digitalising one of the following areas: regional shared meds, longitudinal patient records, regional cancer management, or frailty and end of life.
  • Set-up a digital health platform that puts the ICS in control of their data, and create a future-proof digital infrastructure, so that ICSs are able to create a modular and flexible ecosystem of solutions.
  • Set up a standards-based, structured clinical data repository, to create a vendor-neutral patient record for life. 

Our Better Platform, Better Meds, and our solutions for longitudinal patient records, frailty, and end-of-life will deliver the first benefits within six months of starting the digitalisation process. Our approach has also been well-proven in practice – Better already has a decade of global experience in setting up regional ecosystems based on digital health platforms, supporting +22 million patients, +50 applications, and +500 health and care organisations. Our deployments include the City of Moscow, Malta, and Slovenia. 

Furthermore, the DHP approach is also getting broader recognition. Last year, for example, Ernst & Young dedicated their health technology report to a vendor-neutral data environment for connected health ecosystems, Gartner defined the DHP approach in their Hype Cycle for Healthcare Providers, and the World Health Organization and International Telecommunication Union published a Digital Health Platform Handbook.

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