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Blog: what can 2017 bring for UK digital health?

By Dr Phillip Scott, Vice Chair, BCS Health 02.02.17

By Dr Philip Scott, Vice Chair, BCS Health

The NHS needs help. Last week the BBC gave us a series of headlines like “Nine in 10 hospitals 'overcrowded' this winter”. Sir Robert Francis, now a non-exec at CQC, said that although politicians talk up the ‘extra money’ the NHS has received, “there is a front-line feeling that things have never been as bad as they are now and we can't deal with the pressures.”

Digital health on its own is not going to fix that. But it can help…

One big problem for our care services is communication breakdown. Francis highlighted this in his Report of the Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust Public Inquiry. Obviously, good communication improves both safety and efficiency - and good IT can help. Whether it’s a hospital discharge to a care home, sharing a care plan across a multi-disciplinary team or simply identifying current medications, good IT will help.

But what is “good” IT? Not only must it be reliable, fast and user-friendly, it must be “interoperable” – the hospital IT has to be able to talk to the general practice IT has to be able to talk to the palliative care team IT, and so on. And that need standards.

The Wachter Review called for “National standards for interoperability… with an expectation of widespread interoperability of core data elements by 2020”. Rapid progress has been made recently and it does feel that we are on the cusp of real change. Internationally, the FHIR standard (Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources) has generated great enthusiasm (and some hype) for its simplified approach. Here, NHS Digital is leading work with the Professional Record Standards Body (PRSB), INTEROPen (an implementer consortium) and HL7 UK (the local affiliate of the international standards body that created FHIR) to adapt FHIR for the NHS and social care.

This will give us a common language for IT in health and care services, so that care can be safely joined-up.

The theme of UK eHealth Week 2017 is using data and IT to transform health and care. Join us there to hear the latest on making IT good enough for the NHS.


Dr Philip Scott is a Senior Lecturer in Information Systems at the University of Portsmouth, Chair of HL7 UK and Vice Chair of BCS Health. Philip chairs the programme committee for the BCS Healthcare Computing national conference and the Southern Institute for Health Informatics conference hosted by the University of Portsmouth. He represents BCS Health on the recently formed Professional Records Standards Body for health and social care (PRSB) and chairs the PRSB technical steering committee. Dr Scott is a member of the Centre for Healthcare Modelling and Informatics at the University of Portsmouth, where his research interests focus on scientific evaluation of the practical impacts of clinical information systems.

By Dr Phillip Scott, Vice Chair, BCS Health
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