Digital health lessons from the NHS

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Around the world healthcare facilities are going digital, although the pace varies. This brings with it complications compatibility, patient confidentiality and data security. One of the largest models is with the U.K. National Health service (NHS), which employs over one million people and serves the healthcare needs of the U.K.’s 70 million inhabitants. The digitalization of health information is coordinated by NHS Digital, which has experienced successes (such as the on-going transition of digital patient records) and failings (the recent ransomware attack, which took services down for several days). There are key learning points for other healthcare instituions. NHS Digital provides national information, data and IT systems for health and care services. The government backed organization exists to help patients, clinicians, commissioners, analysts and researchers. NHS Digital also acts as an internal NHS IT provider. The organization also produces reports, using big data analytics, drawing upon information collected from what is the biggest health employer in the world. Examples of recent NHS Digital reports are a survey that highlights need for early intervention for diabetic foot ulcers. Such reports are not only data gathering exercises; they provide analysis, even when this is critical of the health provider. For example, the diabetic report concludes that the “basic framework for effective prevention and management of diabetic foot disease in England and Wales is often missing.” A second example is with a statistical release published by NHS Digital which makes available the most recent data relating to patients with learning disabilities and/or autistic spectrum disorder receiving inpatient care commissioned by the NHS in England. A third example of digital health analysis is about ‘Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT)’, which looks at activity, waiting times, and patient outcomes such as recovery.

Last week 23 percent of Britain's NHS patients waited more than four hours to see a doctor whi...

Last week, 23 percent of Britain’s NHS patients waited more than four hours to see a doctor while two patients died on stretchers in a corridor


Daniel Ray who is in charge of NHS Digital and the NHS Digital cyber security team has provide an illuminating interview to Pharma File about the importance of digital information for healthcare services. Outlining the work of the agency, Daniel Ray explains that NHS Digital controls the “architecture and infrastructure designed to enable the NHS to operate.” This includes a system called Spine (IT infrastructure system for health and social care in England) and N3 (which is the national broadband network for the English NHS, made up of 12,000 miles of fiber optic cables). An interesting statistic about Spine is that it handles some 2,000 messages per second. The key challenges for growing health provision is with the ever growing volume of data, especially with the demand for making more “data available faster and more efficiently.” The requests for data are not only made within the NHS but also from pharmaceutical organizations. Outside organizations need to make applications to NHS Digital. This needs to be carefully evaluated.

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To make the data sharing process faster, NHS Digital is implementing new business intelligence tools to allow people to better interact with the data. This will include the ability to remotely data access data.

Several major companies say they have been targeted in an international cyberattack

Several major companies say they have been targeted in an international cyberattack

Greg Wood, AFP/File

The biggest risks to data arise from cyberattacks and here the NHS was hit during 2017 by the WannaCry ransomware global incident. Hospitals and GP surgeries in England and Scotland were among at least 16 health service organizations hit by a “ransomware” attack; some of the reasons were due to the use of Windows XP systems and a lack of security updates. This has led to a review of cybersecurity across the health service. NHS Digital has created what’s called the Data Security Centre to support staff and the services they support. As to the future, Ray concludes “NHS Digital is the conduit for data security advice, guidance and intelligence for the nation’s health and care system. We are working with partners across health and care to build patients’ confidence that we protect and safeguard their data and that it is only ever used for the benefit of health and care.”