Public Services > Justice

Whitehall explores 'health-as-a-platform' potential

Neil Merrett Published 23 September 2015

Work now underway on prototypes that will inform direction for information delivery, digital services and platforms across the digital NHS


The Department of Health (DH) and NHS England have been exploring prototypes for information delivery, digital services and platforms to support a more streamlined approach to accessing care online via an NHS.UK Alpha domain.

An initial 12 week project is now being undertaken by a team of staff from the health department and various NHS bodies to set out standards and guidance on the future look and focuses of a centralised NHS.UK site.

Dan Sheldon, DH digital strategy lead said he was working as part of a NHS.UK Alpha team to consider where initial efforts should be focused on overhauling provision of services and information, potentially through a 'health-as-a-platform' approach looking at common tools and standards.

"Surely it is time that many basic transactions in health and care like registering with a GP were available online. Getting this right will be key to making things better for users and saving the NHS money in the process," he said in a post about the ongoing work.

"But redesigning each service in health from scratch will take a long time. With central government focusing on platforms, perhaps we should be trying to understand health-as-a-platform, fixing common problems like identity and booking once, rather than expecting each digital service to invent its own solution."

Sheldon cited findings of the National Information Board's (NIB) 'Personalised Health and Care 2020' document, which last year provided a framework for how UK-based healthcare bodies should use patient data and technology to inform treatment, as an example of challenges ahead for the NHS:

"The consumer experience of care services remains much as it was before the mobile phone and the internet became commonplace."

In setting out plans for NHS.UK going forward, Sheldon argued that one "obvious "starting point would be looking at how to improve information publishing by health and care organisations online. At present, there are believed to be 3,000 live health and care sites, alongside over 20,000 pieces of content held on NHS Choices, he noted.

Sheldon said that the team had since been exploring prototypes and opportunities for where improvements can be made to information, services and platforms.

In considering the key challenges ahead as part of this transformation work, he added that compared to the 497 constituent organisations in central government, the NHS confederation estimates some 9,000 bodies provide or commission care across the NHS.

Noting the organisational complexities of the NHS, Sheldon said that work was required to better understand how the public can navigate the health and care system, while addressing requirements of the Five Year Forward View plan looking at demand and funding efficiency.

In an attempt to try and shift to more proactive and personalised care, granting patients more control over services, collaboration across different health organisations was seen as a vital focus, along with working with groups like the Government Digital Service.

"The original idea for NHS.UK Alpha was compellingly simple: that we needed to move from talking about the future of NHS.UK to doing. Instead of writing strategies and drawing diagrams - we've done that - we are building prototypes, testing in public and learning. Show the thing. We owe a debt to alphagov for the inspiration to start in this way," Sheldon said.

"But even this, to some extent, has been done before. Some committed, talented people have tried to do come up with a vision for what has been variously called an 'integrated national information and advice service', a 'front door', an 'online portal' and a 'customer service platform' for health and care. Many of them even built prototypes to bring the vision to life."

He claimed that plans to realise these ambitions have previously been lacking, with the key focus for NHS.UK Alpha now looking at clear action plans to meet these ambitions, along with addressing work around user needs and developing service prototypes.

The NHS.UK Alpha work has commenced following an Innovation Expo Conference held earlier this month in Manchester.

The event saw NHS England's outgoing national director for patients and information Tim Kelsey detail a variety of new measures, such as patient bar-coding, that are designed to help boost uptake of technology across UK healthcare to meet wider transformation needs.

Related articles:

Patient barcodes included among NHS England paperless aims

NHS England claims 97% GP online services availability

Caldicott becomes first government health data tsar

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