We are in the midst of a digital revolution. There are 4.4bn internet users, Google receives 63,000 searches every second, and thanks to his online retail website Amazon, the world’s richest man Jeff Bezos makes £117,000 per minute.
And the impact of technological development is being keenly felt in the healthcare system, too.
Providing vital hospital services to a local community of some 390,000 people and specialist services to 1.5m, Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust have undergone a digital revolution of their own, with their cutting-edge digital team bringing the healthcare systems into the 21st century and then some.
“It’s quite hard to go from paper to technology, but when you’re working in a hospital where patients are put first, you really have a to have a multi-disciplinary approach, which is why we have our digital team,” said the LTH’s Head of Digital Programme, Janet Young, who manages the team.
“It’s been an exciting year. It’s humbling to work on something which is so crucial and the way our clinical teams accept change is amazing.”
Commended for their sterling work, the LTH’s digital team has recently been awarded level 2 accreditation as part of the North West Skills Development Network’s Excellence in Informatics scheme.
Informatics centres on the structure, behaviour, and interactions of large computer systems. Tasked with ensuring that everything runs as smoothly as possible for patients and staff alike at Royal Preston Hospital, Chorley and South Ribble Hospital, and the Specialist Mobility and Rehabilitation Centre, the digital team’s work has been transformative.
“Most of us can use technology, but what we’re doing is working with clinical teams used to one way of working and showing them technical solutions,” said Janet, who comes from Preston and lives in Bury. “It’s quite amazing to watch that transition in real time.
“While it’s a challenge, when you’re on a ward and you see how quickly people can access information, it’s amazing,” added Janet, who has worked at LTH for 11 years.
“We’re lucky; our team has three IT nurses, a clinical informatics fellow who’s a junior doctor, and a clinical governance lead was a midwife and registered nurse. We’ve had the right team to support the wards.”
Chief Information Officer Vikki Lewis concurs. “This is the first step of the digitisation of medicine so that information is all in one place and readily available,” she explained. “We’re also looking forward to things such as artificial intelligence and other innovation popping up all the time.
“We’re all living longer, so the more we can empower people to look after themselves, the more efficient our clinical services will be.
“These are the foothills of where we’ll be going over the next 20 years,” added Vikki, who lives in Fulwood and has worked at the trust for over 20 years. “The Topol Review [by American cardiologist Dr Eric Topol] says that in the next 10 year, 90% of people working in health services will have to have digital literacy.”
As healthcare and hospital systems gradually become quicker and more readily available to doctors, patients, and clinicians looking to access data at the tap of a button, the importance of having swift digital provision in place becomes increasingly crucial. As Janet says simply: “Data is so important.”
And there is also a practical angle to be considered as well.
With the help of the digital team, LTH’s staff and clinicians on wards have found that they have more time to undertake the hands-on elements of their jobs, engaging with patients as opposed to chasing files and filling in reams of paperwork.
“[Better digital systems] release more time to care now that everyone’s got used to it,” explained Vikki. “It’s an exciting journey we’re on as an NHS as a whole.”
Janet agrees. “We’re very proud of the organisation,” she said.