NHS Digital Transformation: Is your Infrastructure Ready?
BY PAUL RIDGE
Digital transformation has been significantly growing in recent years due to the ever-increasing capabilities of new technologies and the uses they provide to various industries. Digital transformation refers to the integration of digital technology into all areas of a business. This integration of digital technologies results in a fundamental change of business functions – meaning businesses must be agile enough to adopt the change it creates. In early January of 2019, the NHS published their ‘Long Term Plan’ which sets out how they plan to digitally transform and begin to more effectively use technology within healthcare. A group called NHSX have been appointed to deliver the Health Secretary’s Tech Vision of building on the NHS Long Term Plan, this group has been given responsibility to introduce policies and technologies to speed up digital transformation within the NHS and social care. 2020 then saw the launch of N365, an agreement between NHSX and Microsoft and NHS Digital offering free or discounted access to Microsoft Office 365 across the NHS.
NHS Long Term Plan
The NHS Long term plan outlines how they plan to digitally transform with the help of new technological advancements. Here are some of the key points discussed:
- Changing to a new service model to give patients more options, better support, and properly joined-up care at the right time in the optimal care setting.
- Discussing new, funded action that the NHS will take to strengthen its contribution to prevention and health inequalities.
- Setting the NHS’ priorities for care quality and delivering improvement for the decade ahead.
- Addressing how current workforce pressures will be tackled, and staff supported.
- Reviewing a wide-ranging and funded programme to upgrade technology and digitally-enabled care across the NHS.
- Evaluating how the 3.4% five year NHS funding settlement will help put the NHS back onto a sustainable financial path.
- Deciding the next steps in implementing the Long Term Plan.
Is your Infrastructure ready for digital transformation?
IT infrastructure is critical to a successful digital transformation process and forms the foundation for business IT systems. Good collaboration, telephony and network infrastructure improves agility and optimises IT for digital transformation.
In the world of digital transformation, a good definition of agility is the skill to create applications and services, evolving their use and importance in the NHS without having to re-engineer the infrastructure at each stage. The NHS need to invest in technology at the cutting edge if they want to future-proof. Ensuring all processes are digitised intelligently and interacting with each other will deliver greater flexibility and will empower the NHS to improve the different stages of the internal and patient journey. Below are some examples of digital transformation and their possible application in the NHS.
Unified Communications and Collaboration (UCC)
Commonly known as UCC, unified communications and collaboration describes the interconnected systems of communication devices and applications. The ultimate goal of UCC is to integrate all software so that the end user has easy access to all tools from whatever device is being used. The NHS have discussed how UCC will play a huge part in their digital transformation over the next 10 years. NHS Wales have already signed a contract with Microsoft to provide the company’s cloud-based suite, Microsoft 365, to over 100,000 health workers. This software will enable NHS Wales staff to communicate without disruption and ensure that sensitive information being sent between colleagues is secure.
In the past - voice, video, messaging, conferencing, mobility, fax and pagers were all delivered via different providers which proved to be time consuming and disruptive due to the constant need to change platforms. UCC integrates all of these communication methods into one place to allow for a smooth transition with minimal disruption to the user. The NHS have said ‘ensuring that staff and patients have access to the right data, at the right time, is vital to the NHS providing effective, safe, good value services.’ This would not be achievable without the use of UCC which unifies all communication methods making it easier for employees and ultimately saving time and money.
Traditional telephony (such as phone calls, fax, voicemail etc.) is a technology which allows voice or interactive communication between two points through the usage of appropriate equipment. Internet telephony refers to all features of traditional telephony where all calls and data are sent over the internet rather than over traditional landlines, commonly with VoIP (voice over Internet Protocol). VoIP is the transmission of voice and multimedia content over Internet Protocol. A huge advantage that this gives to companies is that calls can be made free of charge, regardless of location. Internet telephony would greatly benefit healthcare organisations due to the cost effectiveness of it. Hosted telephony, sometimes known as hosted VoIP, is a telephone system that lives in a data centre within the cloud. Calls are made via IP handsets and delivered over a broadband connection to the ISP network. Most solutions to hosted VoIP have layers of encryption such as call encryption and voice data encryption, traffic scanning, gateway security and more, these security measures make it much more secure than unhosted VoIP. Making calls over the internet removes the requirement for installing hardware which minimizes cost and speeds up getting started, it also means there is no costly service provider. To integrate internet telephony requires an understanding of multiple UCC and IP telephony protocols and interfaces to create links between communication services and enterprise applications.
Some of the major trends surrounding hosted telephony include the adoption of unified communications as a service (UCaaS). Rather than paying for costly in-house hardware, businesses will begin to adopt cloud phone systems. This also means that users can access their data, audio and video through any internet connected device as everything is posted in the cloud. Mobile unified communications technology will become more popular in 2019 with the increased number of remote workers, and with the launch of 5G which has increased the functionality of the mobile app VoIP support system.
Wired and Wireless Data Networks
Throughout the digital transformation process, there has been a huge demand for data networks to become more responsive and agile to allow for a more personalised and memorable user experience. The digital landscape is ever-changing, meaning that both wired and wireless networks must become more dynamic and adaptable to support the speed of change. These constantly changing networks often result in the need to update and improve security. To help deliver the Long Term Plan, the NHS must ensure that they keep their security up to date. This means entirely new philosophies about the safeguards and defences necessary to ensure the security of wired and wireless network infrastructure and the data within it. The NHS has outlined that their IT systems and networks must be interoperable for them to move forward digitally and have stated that it is necessary to have more integrated ways of working across health to allow care to be better managed.
Audio Visual Technology
Modern Audio Visual (AV) solutions offer new opportunities for interactive presentations, teaching and learning, whilst the connected nature of such systems enables IT departments to offer enhanced and accountable service levels. AV technology in the NHS helps to communicate messages, schedule and plan workloads, hold effective meetings, clinically record medical conditions and in more advanced uses, this technology has been utilised in for operational and teaching purposes in operating theatres.
All hospitals will require modern data centres to cope with digital transformation. Data centres can be on site areas or buildings used to store computer and telecommunications systems or can be hosted on cloud-based options. Many hospitals will have large and critical on-site data centres which could be in need of refurbishment to meet digital transformation needs. Whether hospitals opt for on site or cloud-based solutions, the important factor is to ensure the data centre performs at its best by meeting required standards but is also set up in a way that it can grow and accommodate any further resources which may be required in the future.
Servers and Storage
In the light of recent variety of alternative models for server and storage capacity, organisations are increasingly beginning to consider the use of virtualised, hosted and cloud-based options for their servers and storage. There are many types of data storage, with various levels of capacity and speed. Future servers and storage solutions will need to be assessed to ensure they are able to support digital transformation.
Alongside the more traditional desktop set ups in the NHS which will still require the most up to date infrastructure and technologies going into digital transformation, many other options now exist and are starting to be introduced such as remote and mobile access. The NHS will have to embrace all of these current desktops and ‘desktop alternative’ technologies if they are to keep pace with the Long Term Plan.
Next steps for digital transformation in the NHS
The medical profession and the NHS are already starting to deliver projects which are as a result of the Long Term Plan and NHSX. Therefore, NHS IT infrastructure needs to be ready for this digital transformation. It is however a complex area and one where technology experts should be consulted with before any decisions are made. Technologies and solutions change regularly, and our team of professional and independent consultants can help with this.
4C Strategies are a team of professional and independent consultants who can help prepare the NHS for digital transformation. With over 20 years’ experience working with the healthcare sector, 4C offers unified solutions to the healthcare industry, providing end-to-end support on ICT projects, by delivering a portfolio of consultancy services to meet client requirements. The team can assist with the entire lifecycle, including strategy, business case, procurement and transformation. Further information on how 4C Strategies can help and the experience they have can be found here.
Please contact 4C Strategies on 01858 438938, or email email@example.com for further information.