The NHS is not just the UK’s largest employer; it’s also one of the most dispersed. In the hunt for savings and efficiencies, then, how can lessons learned in one corner of the NHS labyrinth be shared in a timely fashion with other colleagues? Sally Whittle finds a new solution already gaining traction.

The NHS is going through a period of unprecedented change, with enormous pressure to drive efficiency savings and reduce budgets, while delivering excellent quality of service and patient care. This means that many Trusts and NHS teams are working to uncover opportunities for efficiency, often through new ways of working, or managing resources.

The problem with approaching this innovation through a traditional change management project is that knowledge captured in one part of the NHS is not easily available to other professionals. Ultimately this means needless duplication, and missed opportunities to apply lessons learned in one part of the NHS to other areas. 

Learning from experience
It’s an old story, and a charge by no means levelled exclusively at the NHS. Big business also suffers from this lack of communication. Successful changes in one branch don’t get adopted in another because “that’s not the way we do things around here”. Or the wheel is invented several times in different branches in slightly different guises – never quite working together for the best outcome.

Innovative software company Element8 has developed what could be a solution to this problem with xpoint®, a collaborative project management application built on Microsoft SharePoint. “xpoint allows teams to deliver improvement projects quickly and share them easily with colleagues,” says Andrew Loveless, VP of EMEA and co-founder, Element8.  “It’s really easy to use and get going in your team.’ ”.

In addition to fast project delivery and collaboration, xpoint® is a process tool that allows teams working in multiple functions and locations to collaborate and share information relating specifically to process improvement and innovation. By capturing all relevant information in real-time, xpoint®  provides a constantly updated report to the Project Office, and ensures there is a single version of the truth, rather than multiple reports on the same project.

xpoint® in action: Productive Theatre
One of the first applications of xpoint in the NHS is “Productive Theatre”. This is an initiative in 11 acute Trusts to jointly drive efficiency in operating theatres. “The idea is that teams can generate efficiencies in their own house, but then easily expose and share everything with the other users, so you’re stopping pointless duplication,” explains Loveless. “Users can learn from each other’s experiences straight away. Rather than white papers or case studies which can take months to reach an audience, you’ve got access to all those SharePoint tools like chats and discussions in real-time.”

The Theatre project was initially commissioned by Sasha Karakusevic, Chief Executive of the Health Innovation Education Cluster, a think tank that creates improvement roadmaps for the NHS. “My interest in xpoint came from the need to run more collaborative projects, and the challenges associated with running project management in complex organisations,” he says.  “What we find is that all too often, when a project goes away, the knowledge goes away, too. xpoint allows project teams to collaborate based on principles of open innovation, meaning organisational knowledge is captured and retained, and the skills of front line teams can be improved.”

For this initiative, Element8 has codified three modules for xpoint – one called ‘Scheduling’ which looks to improve efficiency of scheduling through the theatre, ‘Well Organised Theatre’, which looks at the effectiveness of theatre operations as a whole, and a PDSA innovation module.

Cutting costs, accelerating innovation
When people use xpoint to deliver their projects they get a project workspace that provides a project map, tools, a document repository, discussion space, alerts, etc. For example, xpoint provides a financial benefit calculation tool which captures the financial impact of a project in real-time. Using this tool it was possible to demonstrate a £10m impact from the programme. Basically, teams have everything they need to drive their projects forward effectively.

xpoint® can, of course, be used by multiple teams within a programme – including the Project Office, delivery teams and leadership suite, who might otherwise have used disparate systems. “What we’re doing is removing the need to have lots of disparate information, and centralising all those emails and meetings into one system,” says Loveless. “And because it’s hosted, it’s available to other Trusts. They can pick up ideas and develop them, so you get exponential opportunities for improvement.”

Consolidating tools is extremely cost-effective, and early feedback suggests that in areas like reporting, xpoint can reduce line-item costs by between 60 and 80 percent.

SharePoint under the bonnet
Being built on Microsoft SharePoint means that xpoint can use the core industrial capability of the Microsoft platform, with a more specialised user interface. “Initially the product was developed for use with a range of technologies, but we realised it would be more cost-effective to support one technology platform, and SharePoint offered a robust infrastructure that we could scale our business on,” says Anirudh Gupta, CTO, Element8.

SharePoint also offered all the key functionality that Element8 needed. “The core functionality of SharePoint gave us 80% of what we’re trying to do, and the functionality matrix was very closely aligned overall,” says Gupta. “The SharePoint technology is like an Airfix kit in that you have all the components there and you can then configure it and customise the framework.” For example, SharePoint already gives users the ability to have personal sites, and integrates with multiple systems from other providers using readily available connectors and platform-independent technologies.  SharePoint is also already in use within many NHS Trusts, which makes xpoint extremely affordable, he adds. Where new functionality was developed, Element8 was able to work closely with Microsoft, says Loveless. “We found Microsoft very supportive, and their alignment around health is very unified.”

xpoint® is extremely flexible, and comes in a number of existing solutions: xpoint for Projects, xpoint for Innovation, xpoint for PMO, xpoint for QIPP. It has already been used to support diverse programmes in the NHS context including materials management within Theatres, waiting list initiatives, premium rate working reduction and cross-trust drug procurement costs. Desperate public finances are going to keep efficiency and effectiveness front-of-mind for healthcare executives for some time to come; but innovation is a much broader subject. As the face of healthcare changes thanks to seismic social shifts as much as for political reasons, the need for integrated transformation in delivery is not going to go away. xpoint® is just one way in which IT can help to increase the chances of change programmes achieving their financial and delivery objectives.

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Posted by Howard