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What difference is ‘digital’ making to your health and care?

11 September 2018

What difference is ‘digital’ making to your health and care? New technology is already changing the way care services are looking after the people of Greater Manchester.

By Beverley Bryant, chief operating officer, the System C & Graphnet Care Alliance

All of us have been touched by the impact technology has had on our everyday lives – from the way we shop, bank, and buy our holidays, to the way we communicate with each other and keep up with the wider news.  We are used to information and services being available when we need them and in a form that suits us.

The NHS and social care services have so far lagged behind - but that is all changing.  In the news we read a lot about the promise of robotics, artificial intelligence and virtual reality and their role in reshaping healthcare. But there is a less glamorous, yet arguably equally radical transformation already underway in Greater Manchester which is going to make a real difference to improving the quality of care provided to everyone.  This is Greater Manchester’s devolved health and care’s ambition.

At the heart of the strategy is a massive record-sharing project, vision of the Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership and one of the biggest projects of its type in Europe. Built using Graphnet’s software, this shared record is already up and running, and once complete next year it will hold secure, up-to-date health and social care information on Greater Manchester’s 2.8m residents - combining key clinical information from all 10 CCGs, 472 GP practices, 9 hospital Trusts, 10 councils, 3 mental health trusts, hospices and the ambulance service. 

Providing you have given your consent, this means that when you see a health or social care professional working in Greater Manchester, they will be able to review the latest information about you and you won’t have to repeat the same information everywhere you go.  Many citizens believe that this already happens in the NHS but the reality is it doesn’t.  Because care professionals will have all the right information always available in one place, they will be able to respond more quickly, safely and in the most appropriate manner – whether it is making a diagnosis, prescribing, referring you on to the appropriate team or putting the right community support services in place. They will have more time to spend with you and others as time will be freed up from administrative tasks, and they will be more likely to be able to resolve your problems the first time that they see or talk to you.

Already, hospital staff Manchester, for example, can share information and updates electronically about an elderly patient with social care and community staff – making sure that necessary support is put in place so that person can be discharged as quickly as possible from the hospital and back into their own home.

Similarly, A&E staff at Royal Bolton Hospital can immediately see if someone admitted in distress, has particular mental illness health needs or a disability.  They can look up and contact the professionals involved in their care and their carer or next of kin.

If you live in Tameside and have a suspected stroke, you are likely to be taken to the specialist stroke centre at Stepping Hill Hospital.  Their stroke clinicians will be able to look up your medical history on the spot, check your medications (very important information to know before patients are given clot-busting drugs without danger) and move immediately to provide the sort of safe, swift, specialist treatment that can make such a huge difference to stroke recovery. 

This record-sharing technology is already up and running in North, South and Central Manchester, in Stockport, Trafford and Bolton. And the other areas in Greater Manchester are all underway and due to be live by Spring next year.  This is when the benefits will really be felt because care professionals will be able to see 100% of the clinical information all of the time on everyone living in the region, providing they have given their consent. So, if you are referred to a specialist hospital like the Christie, the doctors and nurses will know that they have the information they need at their fingertips, regardless of whether you live in Bolton, Oldham or Trafford.    The depth of information available and the breadth of population covered by the system means that the clinical teams no longer need to log in and hope for information, they can be confident that it will be there and that it is current and up-to-date.

There is much more to come.  As part of the roll out of the electronic record system, we are developing personalised care plans for people with long term conditions, so that every clinician working in Greater Manchester can see the specific needs and plans for those individuals at the touch of a button.  These plans are drawn up with those individuals, and keep important details such as any particular problems that person has, management plans and the contact details for relatives and carers.  If you have a plan, it will mean that the emergency services, for example, will be able to see this and help prevent you being taken to hospital unnecessarily.  In Manchester, where these care plans are already up and running, they have seen a significant drop in A&E attendances and unplanned hospital admissions; this is already making a real difference to people’s lives.  

The next step will be care professionals looking closely at how they can help specific groups of patients in a more proactive way – those with a particular diagnosis or at high risk of developing conditions like diabetes, for example - and focus time and resources at helping them manage their health.

Digital technology underpins all this and is a key building block in the ambition to provide safer and smarter care to the people of Greater Manchester.  The electronic record will help care professionals keep more people well and take better care of those who are ill. 

This blog post originally appeared on the Great Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership website, September 2018.