Solving interoperability is not ‘a technical problem, it’s a social problem’

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Solving interoperability is not “a technical problem, it’s a social problem”, the co-chair of INTEROPen has said.

Speaking to Digital Health News, David Hancock, was asked about whether he thought the Covid-19 pandemic would made interoperability in healthcare a higher priority.

Hancock, how is also a healthcare executive advisor at InterSystems, said: “People have been saying for the last how many years that interoperability is really important. The thing that we have got to recognise is that solving interoperability is not a technical problem, it’s a social problem.”

He added that he believes the introduction of Integrated Care Systems (ICSs) have helped with the drive for interoperability across the healthcare as trusts are no longer seen as “an individual island” but rather part of a group where they are “taking decisions as a collective”.

“This is a big, big deal, because with interoperability, we always think that the social problem we always face is this idea of the collective action dilemma,” Hancock added.

“With interoperability, in order for one party to be able to get benefit, another party has typically got to incur all the costs, has got to do all the clinical change and they themselves get no benefit whatsoever because it is the receiving organisation that gets all the benefit.

“Now that we have ICSs and it is about system-wide working, we have a far better chance of getting those collective action dilemmas agreed and the leaders of the ICSs can help drive behaviour and that is what makes me optimistic.”

Dealing with the backlog

Covid-19 has forced hospitals to rapidly adapt care services, driving a 50% reduction in hospital capacity.

As the country moves past the first peak of the pandemic, the NHS is now battling a huge pent up demand with 26,000 patients on waiting lists longer than a year, up from 11,000 in May.

So, how can the NHS tackle this demand while hospital capacity is reduced? For Hancock, it is all about the community.

“We know that the NHS has got huge, pent up demand, since referrals were stopped in March,” he said.

“So you have got this huge backlog and this huge pent up demand and we just don’t have the capacity in the hospitals to be able to chew through that.

“For me, a really good thing to do is to be able to treat some patients at home or being able to treat them outside the clinical setting.”

The digital drive

The pandemic has also helped with the acceleration of the use of digital tools across the whole of the health system and for Hancock, this drive has to be maintained.

“There is one thing I am going to predict is that need for experimentation is only going to accelerate – we know that,” he said.

“We need to think about that across the whole NHS, we need to think about that within the trusts, we need to think about how are we going to come up with a sustainable way to do that, which is going to give us something to build on that we know can support that innovation.”

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