Comment / Navigating the complex world of digital NHS ideas

27 June 2024 Fiona Boyle

Coming new to HFMA as a policy manager at the end of last year from a background in NHS costing, I had regularly worked with informatics professionals, digital data and systems but had not touched on many areas where digital systems were improving clinical practice. So, when I was given delivering value from digital technology (DVDT) in my portfolio, I had a lot to learn. So where does a finance professional start on their journey to finding greater value from digital innovations?

From experience, I knew the HFMA has a wealth of guidance and support on such things, and true to form, I found the DVDT workstream had produced a resource map of useful online information, which is a good place for a finance professional to start. It covers many of the official and informal sources of information, and so I dived straight in, reading briefings, policies and national direction.

Lots of these documents largely confirmed the logic that – implemented well – digital solutions can be very useful. I saw lots of case studies, which demonstrated many services have found great patient benefits and streamlined their administration from digital developments. For example, one case study shared the benefits of implementing radio-frequency identification (RFID) to track and manage its medical equipment, and another described the use of virtual reality to provide pulmonary rehabilitation courses to patients with chronic respiratory diseases. These – and others – gave helpful examples of subject matter and shared some of the pitfalls, which can help prevent the same mistakes being re-played by others. 

I was happily able to add further items to the DVDT resource map from my travels online. But I had seen there were many different committees and groups working in this area, both within the HFMA and outside. There were so many groups it was a little bewildering. On FutureNHS platform alone I found the digital discussion group, a space for the national nursing Digital Shared Decision Making Council and its seven spin-off groups, the digitally enabled outpatients transformation workspace and the digital workforce workstreams to name just a few.

The digital workforce space led me to the Government digital and data profession capability framework to support professions in all public sector areas. This provided a very useful structure for a typically difficult staff group when it comes to recruitment and retention. It would certainly be helpful to link in with some of these relevant committees and groups, but who were the best people to work with? My starting point became the HFMA Digital Council, as it leads the workstream on behalf of the association. I figured that would give me a good foothold in the area. We also have strong links with the digital networks in each NHS region, NHS providers and the NHS Confederation’s digital board.

Loving a good graphic, I’m now proposing a visual mini map for these digital ‘entities’, to see some of them in a more illustrative way. Hopefully it will be quicker to see just who is out there to support our digital understanding. As all of the HFMA suite of maps do, I suspect this mini map will grow over time.

So, what have I learnt? Well, the key learning point seems to be that the principles of digital transformation are fairly consistent with the principles of any service change.

  • Ensure the clinicians have financial support for their endeavours. Nothing new there! 
  • Passion for the project is an essential lever for change. Do the project because it’s the right thing for the patients, and everyone will want to be a part of it.
  • Good project management is essential and identifying reportable outcomes (both clinical and activity-based) from the outset helps mould the work for governance and commissioning purposes.
  • And link in with a digital group or committee that is working on the area of interest; but you don’t need to be part of them all!

Overall, it’s apparent that there is no single right way to deliver value from a digital technology, so using our financial logic as part of the team is a good place to start. And working on some new case studies, such as using genetic testing to improve the successful use of drugs in primary care, or the 3D map of the heart and blood vessels that radically improves the planning for patients with coronary artery disease, I can see this is a very exciting area to be a part of. I’m now looking forward to sharing more of these case studies and more with my colleagues in finance and beyond, in the hope it might inspire new digital projects out there in the NHS.
If you would like to be involved in the work on delivering value from digital technologies, you may be interested in joining the HFMA Digital Council. Please contact [email protected]