Leading the technology revolution

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Tim Kelsey

Tim Kelsey is the National Director for Patients and Information, NHS England, and a keynote speaker at our Digital health and care congress 2015. He is an internationally regarded expert in thinking differently about how digital and social media can transform the patient – and their experience in public services.

We talk to him about the role of technology in improving care.

What must health and care professionals seriously consider in order to make better use of data and technology to deliver better care?

Harnessing the power of the information revolution is key to delivering high-quality sustainable health and care services. It has transformed the standard, cost and accessibility of many other industries – from online retail to banking. In aviation, adoption of common data standards by airlines has made them safer – in the past decade, incidents of mortality have fallen by more than 50 per cent because better data has supported a better quality reporting culture. For care professionals the imperative is that transparency of their own outcomes and new approaches to encouraging their patients and service users to participate in their health and care – enabled by personalised technologies – supports the clinical relationship and improves quality.

What’s the prize? What can be achieved if professionals, organisations and the system engage fully with the technology available to them?

Technology is just an enabler: the prize is in empowering patients and citizens to take more control, when they want it, of their health and care and in enabling clinicians, supported by better data, to make better decisions. But the evidence also demonstrates that getting the basics right – ensuring real-time interoperability of records at the point of care, using the NHS number as the unique patient identifier, helping patients and clinicians take advantage of digital tools and applications – also improves the value of health services: in some cases significantly reducing their cost, in others enabling much more relevant resource allocation to people’s actual need.

How will a greater use of data and technology change the dynamic between patients and professionals?

In Bromley by Bow, in London’s East End, Sir Sam Everington and his colleagues in local general practice have been sharing data to improve their ability to support the local community to improve children’s immunisation rates with real success. They have now achieved ‘herd immunity’ – in the medical jargon – which means that diseases of the 19th century long since eradicated in most of our country have now been eliminated.

In a neighbouring part of London, Dr Arvind Madan and his colleagues have developed a suite of digital services for their patients so that they can, if they wish, consult with their doctors online and be triaged remotely. Many of Arvind’s self-employed patients lose money if they leave work to visit the GP. This is modern health care designed around the patient.

What are the most exciting examples of using technology and data you’ve seen recently?

In technology simple is always good; excitement is often ephemeral. The key attribute of great technology is that it meets a real social need. So, for me, the most powerful example of health benefit is just in opening up the digital infrastructure of the NHS – safely, so that confidentiality is always the priority, but where consent is provided it can enable social and commercial entrepreneurs to innovate and add value for patients and citizens.

This article was originally published in The King's Fund's Insight magazine, summer 2015.