Bored of digital transformation? It could save the NHS
The technology trade association TechUK has launched a 2019 manifesto calling for renewed emphasis on digital transformation efforts in government. The manifesto recommends that all government departments should appoint a minister solely responsible for the continuation of digital transformation projects. These appointments, the manifesto pronounces, will “ensure [that] the momentum of transformation is relentless.”
In the age of Brexit, digital transformation hasn’t played a big part at previous elections. But when applied to the NHS, it quickly becomes an important topic. The ability of digital transformation processes to boost staff productivity and streamline workflows is well documented and can play a huge role in improving healthcare services across the world.
One of the big arguments for digital transformation in all industries is that its processes will liberate employees from mundane work, freeing up time that can be better applied to more worthwhile or complex tasks. In industries such as insurance, this might involve improving your customer service; in healthcare, it could save a patient’s life.
The role of digital transformation in healthcare
By using sophisticated document capture technology, for example, hospital staff can collate extensive patient records from a wide variety of sources all in one electronic format, creating greater visibility of patient history. From doctors’ notes to lab results to discharge summaries, this technology equips staff with a more complete view of each patient and affords them quick and easy retrieval of information.
Cutting down the time spent on arduous and repetitive administrative jobs is often one of the most significant objectives of digital transformation. In a hospital environment, this will allow staff to focus their efforts on the more personal aspects of care – spending important time with patients and understanding their needs.
New technology can also help eradicate the labour-intensive administration of the referrals process. To give an indication of the volume of referrals dealt with by the NHS, the organisation’s own statistics state that every day between 2017-2018, there was an average of 5,300 urgent GP referrals for cancers alone.
Meeting the NHS’s referral to treatment targets, which is committed to providing patients with consultant-led treatment within 18 weeks of referral by their GP, is consistently made difficult by the manual entry of data into digital systems, which takes up huge amounts of valuable staff time.
With investment in digital transformation projects, these administrative hindrances would soon become a thing of the past, connecting patients to staff quickly and efficiently.
From digital transformation to robot surgeons: the current state of play
In all healthcare systems, radical new technologies are frequently being introduced. In Canada, a robot was used to assist in brain surgery for the first time, while developments in 5G and extended reality are paving the way for unprecedented simulation training and remote treatment of patients.
Digital transformation addresses the core of IT systems, so it doesn’t have the same ability to grab headlines as the more futuristic examples above. However, without updating their basic infrastructure, hospitals will be unable to add on the exciting new technology tools that they need in the 21st century.
For example, we know that machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI) technologies feed off masses of data sets. The more data there is to consume, the more effective these tools become – and the healthcare system has an abundance of data sources, lending itself perfectly to the application of ML and AI.
But in order to get the most from these technologies, that data must first be organised appropriately. Like in other industries, it’s the behind-the-scenes digital processes that make a real difference in data capture and management.
ML and AI’s capacity to help identify diseases and diagnose patients will change the lives of staff and patients alike – and these capabilities are on the horizon in the healthcare sector. For them to do so, however, they must first have the ability to quickly process, classify and store data all in one place.
Looking to the future
A new arm of the NHS, called NHSx, was set up earlier this year to maintain digital transformation momentum in the Department for Health and Social Care. Its purpose is to improve the sector by giving hospital staff access to the technology they need.
The future of healthcare will rely on new, data-driven technology. By implementing digital transformation processes, and replacing the archaic administration procedures still at play in many healthcare organisations, our hospitals will become better prepared to deal with the challenges presented by running a modern healthcare service – one that benefits patients and staff in equal measure.
By James Adie, Vice President of EMEA sales, Ephesoft
SAS: Improving the British Army’s decision making with data
SAS’ long-standing relationship with the British Army is built on mutual respect and grounded by a reciprocal understanding of each others’ capabilities, strengths, and weaknesses. Roderick Crawford, VP and Country GM for SAS UKI, states that the company’s thorough grasp of the defence sector makes it an ideal partner for the Army as it undergoes its own digital transformation.
“Major General Jon Cole told us that he wanted to enable better, faster decision-making in order to improve operational efficiency,” he explains. Therefore, SAS’ task was to help the British Army realise the “significant potential” of data through the use of artificial intelligence (AI) to automate tasks and conduct complex analysis.
In 2020, the Army invested in the SAS ‘Viya platform’ as an overture to embarking on its new digital roadmap. The goal was to deliver a new way of working that enabled agility, flexibility, faster deployment, and reduced risk and cost: “SAS put a commercial framework in place to free the Army of limits in terms of their access to our tech capabilities.”
Doing so was important not just in terms of facilitating faster innovation but also, in Crawford’s words, to “connect the unconnected.” This means structuring data in a simultaneously secure and accessible manner for all skill levels, from analysts to data engineers and military commanders. The result is that analytics and decision-making that drives innovation and increases collaboration.
Crawford also highlights the importance of the SAS platform’s open nature, “General Cole was very clear that the Army wanted a way to work with other data and analytics tools such as Python. We allow them to do that, but with improved governance and faster delivery capabilities.”
SAS realises that collaboration is at the heart of a strong partnership and has been closely developing a long-term roadmap with the Army. “Although we're separate organisations, we come together to work effectively as one,” says Crawford. “Companies usually find it very easy to partner with SAS because we're a very open, honest, and people-based business by nature.”
With digital technology itself changing with great regularity, it’s safe to imagine that SAS’ own relationship with the Army will become even closer and more diverse. As SAS assists it in enhancing its operational readiness and providing its commanders with a secure view of key data points, Crawford is certain that the company will have a continually valuable role to play.
“As warfare moves into what we might call ‘the grey-zone’, the need to understand, decide, and act on complex information streams and diverse sources has never been more important. AI, computer vision and natural language processing are technologies that we hope to exploit over the next three to five years in conjunction with the Army.”
Fundamentally, data analytics is a tool for gaining valuable insights and expediting the delivery of outcomes. The goal of the two parties’ partnership, concludes Crawford, will be to reach the point where both access to data and decision-making can be performed qualitatively and in real-time.
“SAS is absolutely delighted to have this relationship with the British Army, and across the MOD. It’s a great privilege to be part of the armed forces covenant.”