3 min readThe Healthcare Infrastructure Opportunities in the United Kingdom – A Symbiotic Approach to Success

The saga to bring to life – efficiency, absolute patient safety, and cost-effectiveness continues. The United Kingdom decided to take proactive steps to overhaul its health systems by introducing new infrastructure and healthcare technology solutions. The process involved partnering with large systems integrators on a journey that has been envisaged to culminate with health professionals and staff maximizing limited resources and providing the highest levels of care to the aging British population. The year is 2008, and most of what was supposed to be a simple overhaul has turned into a complex interlinked maze of anomalies that has increased the not so humble budget by more than a factor of 2. The complexities in introducing a system of such scale is almost spellbinding to most who are involved, as the goal is to unify the health system, its processes, its people, and create synergy. The health departments in Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland however have their own implementation plans. The symbiotic yet autonomous nature of health services makes the United Kingdom an interesting case for further scrutiny.
 
The unique relationship between the National Health Services in the UK and its patient population has given rise to independent yet complimentary roadmaps to overhaul IT infrastructure. The DoH has indicated the need for easier access, more choice, and greater efficiency in pharmacies. The DoH has also recognised the need for new healthcare infrastructure with 100 new hospitals scheduled to be built before 2010. It is unclear how much of this plan has actually been successful. In order for the system to work effectively LHAs play a critical role in budget spending, as infrastructural overhauls need to be facilitated at this level. Other key areas besides those chalked out exclusively by the Connecting for Health programme are Clinical Pathway Support, Telemedicine, Feotal Medicine Computerised Information System, and the improved interaction with the private sector.

The Scottish Executive has been working on improving patient safety across hospitals in Scotland with the implementation of Electronic Prescription Management. In its efforts to curtail rising costs, the SE and Local Authorities have been trying to move patient care back into homes, thus expanding the market for home-care solutions. In Wales, the “Social Care and Wellbeing Strategy 2005-2008” plays a pivotal role in addressing the steps towards advanced care delivery. The Welsh Assembly Government is keen on reducing the impact of Coronary Heart Disease, Cancer, Respiratory Diseases, Diabetes, and improving mental health amongst other priorities. Clinical pathway support and solutions for chronic illnesses consistently find their way into the Welsh health services. The WAG has also acknowledged the need to modernize its facilities – creating opportunities for administrative and clinical solution providers. The WAG promises that all patients diagnosed with a cardiac related diagnosis will be seen by a consultant cardiologist within 24 hours. Other key areas of investment are PACS, RIS, EMR, CPOE, and PAS. In order to ensure that patients are directed to the right level of care, primary care is being modernized to equip physicians with the right tech-tools to ensure efficiency, accuracy and consistency. A&E departments are being upgraded and Ambulance services are being modernized with the help of Computer Aided Dispatch systems.

Northern Ireland chalked out its Northern Ireland Investment Plan which is expected to run until 2014. The Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety (DHSSPS) is the instrumental organisation responsible for healthcare delivery in the region. An important inference is the importance of larger scale contracts in NI, as opposed to other regions in the UK where contracts are handed out in pockets. Most initiatives are contracted on a region-wide basis. As with England, Wales and Scotland; Northern Ireland has been focussing on similar investment areas. The DHSSPS is focussed on reducing waiting lines and improving congenital heart disease management. The DHSSPS is allocating resources to support Sexual Health Information Systems, Pharmacy Automation, EMR, Electronic Materials Management, and improving its Ambulance Services.

On dissecting the healthcare IT opportunity in the UK, the complexity of implementation emerges as a more immediate challenge than anticipated. The sheer scale and time-line, within which this success was envisaged, made the IT overhaul an overwhelming experience for all those involved. Some of the key challenges faced were to ensure adherence with time-lines, create buy-in from users, and create synergy by users utilizing the system in a predefined manner.

IT infrastructure is a more immediate need in the UK, and firms have already been contracted to facilitate the overhaul. However, service contracts will always come up for bids in the years to come, and with the increasing use of wireless technologies, faster servers, and portable devices; solution providers will always have health services looking out for easy-to-install solutions offering quantifiable ROI. On the healthcare IT solution side; the complete overhaul of HCIT solutions within health facilities are many years away from saturation. The constituent elements of the healthcare technology industry are innovation, practicality, and return on investment – all of which will continue to create purchase and upgrade needs for the health services well into the next few decades.

The healthcare IT industry in the United Kingdom is at a unique position within its life-cycle, where technology has given it a fresh breath of life to create for itself a new reality built on superior technology, efficiency, accuracy and cost containment. It is debatable that successes in the UK will motivate similar projects elsewhere in Europe; and its immediate inadequacies will force governments to reconsider the scale at which technology can be introduced into a health system. The truth lies in the fact that technology brings efficiency, accuracy, ROI, and clarity to an industry almost plagued with impending financial doom.

healthcare infrastructure, Healthcare IT, IT, NHS

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