Can an ICS Digital Strategy be greater than the sum of its parts?

The pandemic has shown us like never before that effective digital services is central to health and care service provision. From online patient consultations to remote working – the demand for digital solutions has never been more acute. So, what does that mean for any future Integrated Care System (ICS) digital strategy?

The hope is that Humber, Coast and Vale Health and Care Partnership (Integrated Care System) creates harmonisation and that organisations currently employing fewer digital than others can benefit from the umbrella of health and care partnerships and be encouraged to more advanced use of digital.

The aim is simple; to deliver better and, as the name suggests, more integrated care for patients. A noble ambition. One way I visualise this, is in terms of tying a nice little bow around the myriad of digital strategies across the ICS for Humber Coast and Vale.

In my experience, when it comes to an ICS digital strategy, we should support one another. I believe there are three ways in which we can achieve this:

  • Collaborative leadership
  • Embracing industry and innovation
  • Supporting inclusivity.

We’ve already made some important decisions around Electronic Patient Records (EPR), data sharing and interoperability for Humber, Coast and Vale Health and Care Partnership (Integrated Care System) as well as setting some necessary governance to oversee the delivery and give assurance to executives.

The executive team has offered clarity, through shared goals and targets that our constituent organisations can then deliver on.

For digital transformation to succeed in any ICS, it must embrace and use the power of the technology supplier industry and to seek out knowledge and experience of the best designers, coders, developers, transformation experts, data scientists, consultants, and experts in the management of commercial IT contracts.

An ICS will be responsible for ‘building the tools to allow collaborative working and frictionless movement of staff across organisational boundaries’. Collaboration with trusted technology suppliers and innovative start-ups will be key to this. To paraphrase Spiderman, with “great power comes great responsibility”.

NHSX’s What Good Looks Like framework emphasises the role of ICSs as the centre of decision-making on digital strategy and related investment decisions. ICS boards must ensure investment is maximised in technology and innovation to improve the experience of both clinicians and patients.

The pandemic has shown the willingness of many patients to use and reap the benefits of digital care. New digital healthcare technology and services such as integrated care records must make patient experiences better. The patient will, and should, expect a smarter NHS in post-Covid times.

On the flip side, the biggest risk for an ICS is that some patients will be excluded from or vulnerable to transformation. People with disability, impairment and existing conditions, people from minority ethnic cultures and people from low socio-economic backgrounds are those most at risk of exclusion from digital transformation.

It will be paramount for ICSs to address this and make integrated healthcare as inclusive as possible. They will have a responsibility to collect better data to track the relationship between digital access and health outcomes to inform decision-making and investment.

Patient feedback and response must also be built into the architecture and design of both digital and non-digital health services. Digital healthcare cannot limit people’s rights to universal healthcare. Inclusivity is in the DNA of all digital transformation.

So, back to the main question: can an ICS Digital Strategy be greater than the sum of their parts?

Absolutely, if I don’t believe it, I might as well go home… where I am currently.

It won’t be easy, we need to align, unite and co-ordinate so many different strategies and levels of maturity. But it must be done. We will share our learnings, our experiences and ensure we are empowered to deliver on digital transformation to health and care for all.

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