Over the past twelve months, the NHS has faced a range of significant challenges, not least continuing to support front-line health services entirely remotely.
This experience has fuelled digital transformation at an unprecedented speed and scale. As a people-focussed organisation, the NHS needs this transformation to serve the long-term needs of its patients and workers, rather than simply driving transformation for the sake of transformation.
A human-first approach is the key to maximising the success of a digital transformation initiative. So how did NHS Digital put people at the heart of their solutions, and ultimately transform health service delivery during COVID-19? And what can other organisations looking to jump-start their own digital transformation learn from these lessons?
To find out, I spoke with Sally Bogg, Head of Live Solutions at NHS Digital, an expert in the space, with over a decade of experience in service management and digital transformation.
Transforming healthcare services to save lives
A new hire at the onset of the pandemic, Sally found herself joining at a pivotal time for NHS Digital right from day one.
While the NHS had been on the path of adopting new technologies for the best part of a decade, the crisis created a new sense of urgency. “Just weeks after lockdown, major digital health services launched, all while the organisation itself was getting used to working remotely.”
In order for the NHS to function during this time of crisis and to enable healthcare providers to do their jobs effectively, it became critical to break down silos and enable seamless, end-to-end communication so decisions could be made quickly.
By doing so, the NHS Digital achieved more in just twelve months in what might have taken years to accomplish.
According to Sally, “what drove it all was a shared purpose that gave us the momentum to see it through.”
Perhaps the most striking example of this pace of change has been the rapid transition to remote consultations within GP practices.
Before the pandemic, only 10% of GP surgeries offered video consultations. Six months later, that figure stands at 99%, with GPs offering an entirely remote triage model of care enabled by online, video, and telephone consultations.
And patients were quick to adapt, too: the drive to remote was helped by the majority of patients using smartphones capable of supporting these advances.
The switch to video consultations has driven a real democratisation of healthcare. By putting patient’s health data into their own hands, they can now take a more proactive approach to their health than ever before.
But even this singular change required a complete overhaul of the inner workings of the NHS – a difficult task for a change-averse institution.
Solving problems with a different approach
If the effects of pandemic have shown us anything, it’s that monolithic mindsets are detrimental to an organisation’s survival, and that siloed teams only cause more problems than solve them.
Successful digital transformation relies on an open mindset. That open mindset was crucial for the NHS in welcoming new technologies and adopting a digital first stance – an approach that has already had real dividends.
By opening up to the possibilities that digital solutions offer, the NHS has not only seen a demonstrable acceleration in the adoption of these solutions, but has sparked a considerable change in attitude across the entire health sector in general, too.
As Sally explains, “people were literally changing the way they worked and approached challenges. Before, if an issue popped up, it was tightly contained within a single department. Now, people can volunteer for projects, even if they don’t have the experience, but because they’re willing to help and learn. In fact, they’re actively encouraged.”
Using data to protect the most vulnerable
According to Sally, data has been absolutely crucial for ensuring the NHS embracing digital transformation in a people-centric way.
“Data has absolutely been at the core of the COVID response. It sits behind a lot of public-facing sources where people can find out the pertinent coronavirus data they need to stay informed. But most importantly, data provided more than just information – it proved itself a guardian of the most vulnerable of citizens.”
By collecting datasets gathered from different sources, NHS Digital was able to quickly release a shielded patient list across the UK, prioritising at-risk patients to receive the help and services needed to remain safe.
And the benefits of that data are set to continue long into the future. Post-COVID, NHS Digital hopes to continue the usage of datasets to further improve healthcare and in turn, improve health outcomes.
Taking a people-first approach to digital transformation
The pandemic has shone a light over just how successful digital solutions can be in addressing the problems we face.
For the NHS, that’s meant creating a more flexible, more accessible health service at a truly testing time. The transition has irrevocably changed the health service for the better, and that in itself is a valuable lesson for many change-averse businesses; if an organisation as complex as the NHS can change, anyone can.
For organisations looking to jumpstart their own digital transformation but unsure where to start, Sally has this to say:
“Be brave and make bold decisions. But most importantly, put humans at the heart of the solution. This means ensuring everyone in your organisation shares the same vision and works towards the same goal, otherwise you run the risk of leaving people behind which will only yield poor results. At the end of the day, it’s people who change things – not technology.”
If you want to find out more about how Sally and NHS Digital ushered in a new digital age for the NHS, listen to the rest of the conversation here.