The UK health sector is fast accelerating its digital transformation plans in response to the surge in demand for remote services during the Covid-19 pandemic. This is the conclusion of a new study by iGov and BT which explores how health organisations across the UK are adopting new approaches to patient care in the Covid-19 era. The survey of 70 organisations across the NHS and Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) reveals that digital transformation sits high on the healthcare agenda, driven by demand in remote services (80 per cent), rising patient expectations (71 per cent), and pressures from the pandemic (65 per cent).
Digital transformation of the sector is seen to be so critical in delivering better patient care, that 86 per cent of respondents plan to bring forward their timelines this year to embed better technology infrastructure and adoption.
But despite the sector’s clear ambitions to digitise healthcare services, NHS staff cite considerable barriers to technology adoption. Whilst cost is traditionally perceived as the biggest challenge in the public sector, the study indicates that concerns over cost (39 per cent) are far outweighed by a cultural resistance to new digital processes (60 per cent). For instance, whilst 97 per cent of UK adults have used technology this past year to connect with the NHS, only 18 per cent of health organisations currently use patient health apps. This is despite almost 70 per cent acknowledging smart apps contribute to better patient service. Similarly, only 40 per cent of NHS staff use an online booking system, undoubtedly causing delays and reduced level of service during the national lockdown and social distancing measures this past year.
When asked about the biggest barriers to delivering healthcare remotely, NHS staff cite a lack of digital skills and access for both healthcare colleagues as well as patients. Though almost all (98 per cent) of respondents have experienced a surge in patient demand for remote services, 71 per cent say that a patient’s ability to use and access digital services without assistance remains an issue. More than half also say they don’t have the systems in place to access critical systems such as patient records in real time. Even with some remote health services in place, 43 percent have reported difficulty connecting from remote locations successfully.
Professor Sultan Mahmud, Director of Healthcare, BT’s Enterprise unit says: "Despite the unprecedented pressures the NHS is facing, it’s fantastic to see the new level of optimism and ambition from NHS colleagues in fast-tracking digital innovation in the aftermath of the pandemic. But we know that there are considerable, resource, technological and cultural challenges which still need to be addressed to reap the benefits of digital innovation. With almost 5 million people waiting for operations in England alone - the highest since 2007 – digital technologies and solutions must be deployed at pace to help the NHS to deliver flexible, personalised, and anticipatory care to patients and release capacity wherever possible. And that’s where BT can help.”
“The survey indicates that over 70 per cent of NHS strongly agree that the strength and reliability of their network, wi-fi infrastructure and mobile technology will be essential to the next phase of their digital transformation strategies. As a critical enabler for the country, BT’s infrastructure, technology expertise and commitment to innovation can support healthcare organisations across the UK to transform levels of patient care for the better.”
Since the Covid-19 crisis began, BT has provided support for all its customers – from providing unlimited data for broadband customers and offering unlimited mobile data for any NHS staff on EE, through to supporting the homeless, connecting the NHS Nightingale hospitals and over 180 vaccination sites, and providing hundreds of free digital skills and educational resources. BT has already reached its original goal of helping 10 million people across the UK with digital skills, five years ahead of schedule, and has set a new target to reach 25 million people by the end of March 2026 through its BT Skills for Tomorrow programme. The resources provide support in a wide range of areas – from home-schooling to business webinars and include help for people with low or no digital skills to ensure they can keep in touch with loved ones and access vital health services.
To access the full report: “Progressing Digital Transformation in Healthcare in 2021”