Digital technologies and interoperability: enabling the future of integrated care

This content relates to the following topics:

Integrated care systems (ICSs) offer the opportunity to integrate health and care services across multiple settings including general practice, mental health and Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) services, primary care, secondary care, community care and social care. Integrated care benefits both patients and staff; using digital systems that enable patient information to be shared and accessed seamlessly across the health and care system will be essential to enable successful integration. 

For staff, integrated digital systems would mean being able to see a patient’s relevant history in whichever setting they are working in, so staff and patients can make informed decisions and can easily communicate these decisions with others involved patient care. For patients, better joined-up digital systems would remove the burden of navigating to the next stage of their care, repeating their story and experience numerous times, and memorising essential medications.

What are we doing?

We are undertaking a research project that will review existing policy-led interoperability solutions and will also research the views and experiences from staff interested or involved in implementing interoperability solutions. This will provide an insight into the challenges that remain around enabling integrated care through interoperable digital systems.

The project will explore the role interoperability plays in creating integrated services and the approaches needed to have interoperable systems by looking across four areas – capability of the digital technology, digital and non-digital skills of staff, types of leadership required to enable interoperability and the dependency on culture change to accept a new way of working.

Why are we doing it?

The NHS has historically found it challenging to share information effectively across health care settings, and initiatives such as the National Programme for IT (2002) attempted to address this. Local health care records (2018) and shared care records (2020) are more recent attempts to tackle this challenge. With the drive towards integrating health and social care, the scale of the challenge has increased, with information needing to be shared across more health and care settings, not just in the NHS.

This information and communication flow is essential to ICSs’ ability to provide high-quality care with a high level of patient safety. Siloed health information has been associated with increased clinician admin workload, less patient consultation time, higher safeguarding risks, poorer patient safety and poorer patient experience.

Why now?

With technology improvements, on-the-ground initiatives and, more recently, policy changes (including the Health and Care Bill), many barriers to interoperability have been reduced or removed. However, that does not mean systems and the people within them will automatically support and enable information to flow. It’s essential that digital systems enable seamless communication across care settings to underpin the integration of health and care in a way that improves experiences for both patients and staff.

How to get involved

We are looking to:

  • interview staff in care provider organisations, digital leaders and voluntary and community sector leaders to understand their perspectives on, and experience of, interoperability
  • hold workshops with NHS and social care staff involved in digital transformation and strategy
  • create case studies on the journey to enable interoperability across a whole or parts of an ICS.

Please contact us if you’d like to get involved.

Project team

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Pritesh Mistry

Policy Fellow (Digital Technology)

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David Maguire

Senior Analyst

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Toby Lindsay

Senior Consultant

Alison Jury

Project Coordinator

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Rebecca Gorringe

Partnerships Executive

Sharon Jones

Head of Digital