In late January, Rt Hon Stephen Dorrell MP, Chair of the Health Select Committee, made the keynote speech at an event run by the Reform think tank examining the future of the healthcare workforce. Not surprisingly, as Britain’s largest employer, operating in the midst of the greatest economic upheaval in a century, much of the debate centred on efficiency, productivity, and (because the NHS just can’t get enough of it...) service reconfiguration.

Steve Lyon, Business Development Director of Microsoft Partners, Optevia, says, “If you were designing the NHS today, you wouldn’t design it as it is. It is still designed around footfall – calling patients in to clinics in expensive hospitals, working patterns around nine-to-five attitudes, and delivering to post-war patient expectations. The cost, unwieldiness and length of time to get the job done under the status quo, or to implement new working practices are both symptomatic of old ways of working.”

However, that’s not to say that NHS organisations – or those within them who take responsibility for technology and the role it ought to play - are incapable. In the past decade, great strides have been made in lean process management, which have delivered clear care pathways and better integration with external services. What’s missing, though, is the frictionlessness which modern consumers receive in their interactions with so many organisations, and which should be part of the patient experience.

Ben Jones, NHS Client Director of Trustmarque, also a Microsoft Partner specialising in healthcare, says, “A lot of the NHS IT drivers at the moment are to enable both patients and clinicians with data access. From a practical point of view, we’re moving from a clinician or consultant walking the wards with paper and a checklist to carrying a tablet PC. Strategically, however, this means a greater breadth of rich and current data with which to make decisions, and also the chance to give patients access, there and then, to their own data, involving them in their care.”

You can do a lot with that data to make the provision of care wider reaching, smoother, more effective, and more collaborative. Lyon says, “We have customers that are using CRM to reach out to whole communities, for example Cumbria Partnership NHS Foundation Trust engage using outreach programmes and highly segmented preventative care campaigns not only to speak to patients but to the Foundation’s whole community membership.

“We are also starting to understand for the first time that patients don’t exist in isolation. With the right technology tools, especially mobile services and the new generation of personal care records, we can start to reach the families, colleagues and friends who are integral to the individual patient’s wellbeing.

“And then there are other Trusts that are taking the opportunity to be proactive. If a user self-reports their vital stats, they can get a call from a nurse immediately if a problem trend has been picked up. That means less load on GPs, A&E and ward time. You’ve spent less, and yet delivered what is perceived by the patient to be a better service.”

Making processes friction-free with technology is also saving lives. Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals NHS Trust (BHRUT) uses the Ascribe eHandover system (built around Microsoft SharePoint 2010) to put up-to-date patient information at clinicians’ fingertips across shifts. Dr Aklak Choudhury, BHRUT Clinical Lead for Ambulatory Care, says, “The eHandover solution is the first to identify and successfully manage the shift gap issue which results in significant communication failure and patient risk during nights and weekends.” The result is greater patient safety and a watertight audit trail.

None of these projects need fall into the hell of failed RoI or endless deployment. Healthcare at Home, the leading home care provider, has reported a 20% improvement in efficiency thanks to a Microsoft CRM deployment. Optevia, meanwhile, is working with Belfast Health and Social Care Trust to implement Microsoft Dynamics as a development platform. The promise is that when a department wants a patient management tool, it will be built fast, scalably, and include web-friendly portals and complete accessibility in a matter of three months rather than two years.

Furthermore, Trustmarque’s Jones points out that NHS organisations are better placed than ever to implement local solutions. “There are still entitlements already paid for under the old NPfIT regime which can be put to use. And yet, now that there is no comfort blanket of a central deal, we’re finding that adoption of new technology is actually accelerating. With the assistance of Commissioning Support Units, individual organisations can apply a rigorous business case for the adoption of technology to their specific challenges.”

Do you have a great story about how your patients are benefiting from increased interaction with your organisation? Whether it be via social media, a new website or switching to cloud-based IT, we want to hear about it. Why not contact us @msukinhealth ?

By Nick Saalfeld, Journalist - Microsoft UK Health