The focus on digital transformation in healthcare means that the majority of NHS trusts now have an Electronic Patient Record system (EPR) in place which they use to record and keep track of patient data. But it’s really the tip of the iceberg in terms of the potential these systems have to transform how patient information is stored and shared – not just for better efficiencies in the NHS, but also for better and safer patient care. Very few trusts have been able to fully capitalise on the full breadth of digital tools available – held back from further developing their EPR systems into a fully functioning portal because technology providers are often apprehensive to work together.
A Joined Up Approach
It’s easy to see why technology providers have fallen into the trap of working in silos - unwilling to partner with other suppliers to plug the gaps in their systems for fear of losing their competitive edge. But the fact is that EPR systems would be far more efficient if technology providers worked together to implement new tools. A digital dictation tool, or mobile technology solutions could be added, offering practitioners more flexibility as they do their daily rounds. On the patient side, an enhanced portal which not only offers the ability to book or cancel appointments, but also allows patients to access their own records as implemented by some trusts, should surely be universally, and readily, available.
One of the main barriers to this is the fact that EPR systems don’t integrate with partner solutions easily. This is hugely frustrating for trusts, as they are informed about the potential for innovative integrations but aren’t easily able to access tools which could greatly improve their workflow.
Every EPR supplier has holes in its system, which could easily be plugged by a different technology provider. If they were to partner then it would benefit all three parties, including trusts, so why isn’t this happening? Would a more open culture which welcomed working closely with partners, sharing information, and understanding each others’ technology, achieve this? And what safeguards are needed to make sure clinical safety is at the forefront of any partnership?
Understanding the Issues to Partnering
Data security is one of the most cited issues when it comes to partnering. If two supplier’s API’s don’t match, and they are being thrown into working together by a trust, then its easy for them to turn around at the first hurdle and say it’s impossible.
When it comes to the challenges of integrating separate solutions at trusts, someone who understands the issues around adding an ‘outside’ product into an existing EPR well is Mark Davison, Chief Information Officer at Berkshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust. He says: “We’re heavily reliant on integration with other products to improve our EPR system, and historically our provider has always been really good at that.”
“But there are challenges. Currently if there’s a product your current EPR system provider can’t provide, you end up with two suppliers, managing them both separately. Sometimes that’s successful, sometimes it goes nowhere, but we always end up being the middle man.
“There’s no relationship between those partners, and there has to be goodwill. But if providers had a more open process of working together, and could manage that relationship internally, it would not only expand ways to integrate the product set, it would speed the whole process up for us. This would eliminate a lot of back and forth between both suppliers for the Trust, freeing up our time to focus on finding new ways to innovate with technology.”
Strengthening Supplier Relationships for Better Care
A partner programme is a great solution for this. Not only would it provide a route to market for smaller technology suppliers, it would promote a strong relationship between the two suppliers, and offer trusts ‘a one stop shop’ of products and tools to enhance their systems.
One of the greatest challenges EPR software vendors face is an insatiable appetite to develop the core and ancillary products, with a development department of limited capacity. It’s the classic software ‘funnel’ with endless debates around priorities. If suppliers create interoperability within the core of their products, they allow themselves to significantly increase the product ‘funnel’ using partners, by throughput of delivering new solutions. This results in a far more entrepreneurial environment with solutions delivered quicker, better joined up solutions, providing better healthcare and better outcomes for patients.
A partner programme also has the scope to promote trust in the safety of newer products. Mark continues, “If a technology provider we don’t know is on a partnership programme with a well known supplier, then there’s a level of assurance that they have gone though some accreditation and safety design criteria in order to be there.”
There is no space in healthcare for closed mindedness. We all have one goal, to improve the NHS. With unified practice we can truly be at the forefront of health tech innovation and together for digital care.