What is digital transformation? Multiple definitions circulate, but one of the most common is simply the replacement of previously manual or disparate processes with digital and unified ones. In turn, this accelerates process efficiencies, frees up resource to work on more complex, creative or strategic tasks, and enables the capture and consolidation of previously untapped information, which can be used to drive change. For businesses, then, it is easy to see how digital transformation can have a very direct impact on the bottom line, and be key to retaining competitiveness. But how does it work in the NHS?
The healthcare sector in the UK is under ever-greater pressure to do more with less, as it responds to the challenges of a growing and aging population, and the need to deploy as many new cutting-edge treatments and innovations as possible. This is a sector, therefore, that can potentially benefit enormously from digital transformation. However, costs are always a key concern, and the NHS is less able than many other organisations to deploy costly technology merely as an experimental measure. Here, digital transformation has to drive genuine savings, first time.
One ongoing area of digital transformation in the NHS is the drive towards paperless processes. Structurally, the NHS consists of a vast number of different services, clinics, teams and individuals, many of whom may be involved in the diagnosis and treatment of any individual patient. Clearly, therefore, paper processes means that vast volumes of physical information need to make their way between these groups. This is often slow, cumbersome and error-prone. Digital transformation, by contrast, grants all those disparate groups access to the same centralised and digital information sources, enabling data to be shared and added to more easily, decisions to be made more quickly and mistakes minimised. In short, it improves the patient experience and the NHS’s bottom line.
However, facilitating the transition to paperless processes involves far more than merely digitising existing paper records. It also requires the deployment of a range of tools to enable medical practitioners to access those digital records, such as touchscreen PCs and medical carts that are integrated with Electronic Medical Records (EMR). Selecting and procuring such hardware carries with it a number of considerations, including compliance with the strict data protection standards required in the healthcare sector, and the ability to withstand tough environmental conditions and demanding environments.
Indeed, for organisations within the NHS looking to deploy tools to support digital transformation, useful lifespan and therefore total cost over time is an often overlooked but highly important factor in making procurement decisions. Hardware which relies on short-life batteries, or requires frequent upgrades and patches can rapidly become more expensive overall than costlier but more hardwearing equipment. It is critical for NHS Trusts and organisations making the move to paperless processes to consider procurement costs over months or years, rather than as a purely upfront investment.