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Connected clinicians in UK healthcare: How technology can enable better collaboration

Dr Shaun O’Hanlon, chief medical officer at healthcare software provider EMIS Group 

Healthcare is changing. Gone are the days of going to see your doctor and they know everything about you.

Why? Diagnosis and treatment of illness has grown more complex and people are living longer, and these factors have stretched the service to the extent that practices now find it impossible to follow this traditional approach.

Today, GPs remain a stakeholder and an important part of the healthcare journey, but they can no longer be the sole guardian of the health of every one of their patients – and neither should they be. They are one of a number of stakeholders along the way, with nurses, community care workers, pharmacists, carers and patients themselves, and others.

In light of this, the technology that allows clinicians to collaborate plays a critical role in delivering quality care. This is something which needs to be given strong emphasis by healthcare organisations.

At the most fundamental level, this is about robust and efficient systems for sharing records between health professionals. Clearly, every professional a patient interacts with needs to have access to the relevant information, but currently many of the largely paper based systems that are in place makes this a laborious and error-prone process.

As well as causing delays for patients and risking important details slipping through the cracks, outdated collaboration methods also cost money by sapping clinicians’ time.

This needs investment, to bring in enterprise management systems to facilitate efficient sharing of records. The digital system we developed, EMIS Web, is one example but there is a wealth of choice in the market and it’s important for healthcare IT managers and clinicians to communicate the potential benefits when it comes to allocating budgets.

Collaboration between members of Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCG) is another area where there is potential for significant efficiency savings if the right technology is put in place. In order to work, the GPs that make up CCGs need to communicate regularly as a group to reach agreement on the decisions that need to be made about the services and functions they provide.

Clearly these meetings need to take place as they are fundamental to the way the NHS now operates, but often this means clinicians have to spend half a day out of their practice to attend, once travel time is taken into account. GPs spending half a day per week delivering CCG functions is an inefficient use of resources, and web conferencing tools that allowed groups to get together virtually could save a lot of time.

Trusts in Manchester are already using this technology as part of a wider collaboration drive to find efficiencies, and I’d be keen to see this rolled out more widely.

Looking a little further ahead, there are many ways that technology could improve collaboration both among clinicians and also between the patient and care provider.

For example, the right platform could allow a patient to record their blood pressure in one location which is then directly accessible by any other professional they later see. This could be managed by non-clinicians, removing the burden of basic health monitoring from GPs and nurses and allowing them to focus on priority cases.

Many people now voluntarily wear digital health trackers, and it’s easy to see these begin to play a more significant role.

Ultimately, there is no reason why the communication and collaboration technology that has become part of the fabric of so many modern organisations shouldn’t also be embraced by the healthcare sector.


Read more:

According to the head of the profession, GPs are dangerously tired and overworked. This GP workload infographic pulls together some key statistics around the activities taking up GPs’ time, and highlights examples of how technology is making a difference. 

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