The business case for better information management in healthcare is clear cut. This applies especially in markets where healthcare providers aren’t competing for patients, as they do in the US. So sharing information should be the norm. But it isn’t. Why? There are numerous reasons, but it’s due in part to slow adoption of technology coupled with the need for privacy and security with the population’s medical records – and the two are closely related.
The NHS in the UK is big. NHS England alone has a tax payer-funded budget of £95.6bn ($153.4bn) for the tax year 2013-14, and more than 1.3 million employees – the other countries that make up the UK have their own budgets. The future of the NHS is almost a perpetual subject in the news, especially when elections are looming, as they are in the UK, with the nation going to the polls in May 2015. So it’s not only a care issue, it’s a fiscal one too.
The potential for greater efficiency through increased use of technology is huge in healthcare. Consider the way information flows through the system currently; so much is still paper based, with letters sent to your house to inform you of test results or having to complete the same information on forms over and over again each time you see your family practitioner, which is common in the US.
The average English hospital has supposedly has 11 miles of shelves groaning under the weight of paper and so there is am ambitious digitisation programme happening in the NHS overall, including online access to General Practitioner’s records by 2015 across all 10,500 GP practices and a paperless NHS by 2018.
But as with all information management opportunities, where the goal is to replace less efficient paper-based systems with potentially more efficient electronic ones, there are challenges. Data volumes are exploding, data is spreading across all sorts of devices and cloud-based repositories, data is becoming more complex as we have the ability to measure all sorts of things that were not measurable in the past.
And other challenges exist. These include a growing and ageing population, tighter regulations and more stringent penalties for mistakes made and a financial squeeze as funding isn’t keeping pace with the populations’ demands. The one thing that is not increasing at the same rate is the number of doctors and the size of their individual brains; they need help and they need technology to deliver that efficiency.
That technology needs to be able to handle data of numerous types – structured and unstructured and everything in between – and be able to scale, so we are not revisiting this in a few years time as systems creak under the strain caused by population and information growth.