Health care? Social care? Surely IT's all just about care
Published 20 May 2015
The integration of health and social care services aims to increase efficiency within the sectors through better coordination of primary, secondary and tertiary care. Here, Helen Simpson looks at how improved technology in the health and social care sectors can create a more streamlined and joined-up approach, ultimately generating better care for patients.
When Norman Lamb earlier this year said that "people don't want healthcare or social care, they just want the best care", he was surely voicing what many in the sectors have felt for some considerable time now - that the divisions between the two have resulted in unhelpful fragmentation and disjointed care planning, management and delivery, which is unfit for purpose in a society that is a world away from that envisaged when the health service was set up some 67 years ago.
It is a shame, although hardly a surprise in the current economic climate, that much of the current enthusiasm for integration is riding a wave of costs-reduction possibilities and greater financial efficiencies; none of which have any real evidence base. It's far more likely that the real benefits of integration are less about the money and more about better flow of information, safer, more accessible and genuinely patient-centred care, and improved outcomes. In time, these factors may well lend themselves to costs-containment (perhaps even reduction) through avoidance of duplication and the provision of more appropriate care solutions, which are delivered in the most appropriate care setting - but this won't happen overnight.
However, the one obvious thing that could help speed up the process, drive the necessary changes and enhance consistency of care across different care providers (and all without necessarily requiring costly wholesale organisational restructuring or the creation of more complex models of care) is simply to adopt a more joined up approach to the use of information technology systems across health and social care settings.
If ever there was a time for health information technology to come of age, in my view it is now. We have reached a tipping point where it is the norm for people to be living with complex co-morbidities requiring far more sophisticated, combined health and social care solutions than could have ever been imagined by the "fix and forget" care provision of the past.
It is exciting that health technology has moved on apace from the days of it being little more than an administrative support tool, to a highly effective enabler for genuinely person-centred care. And how great are the possibilities for enhanced research and development into health conditions and successful treatment options with a wealth of data just waiting to be interrogated and analysed?
What's not to like about systems that facilitate fast, accurate information transfer across organisational boundaries, ensuring that providers of services within the care chain have available to them, at their very fingertips, the necessary, comprehensive and up-to-date information to enable them to make the best possible decisions with regard to the care of a specific person?
None of this is rocket science. It does, however, require a degree of forethought, some willingness to share costs (to share in the benefits), quite a lot of planning when procuring IT systems to ensure that all possible participants in the care supply chain will be able to benefit from the solution, and (as is always the case) a lot of willingness to adopt the cultural changes necessary for partnering health and social care organisations to work successfully together – but what prize the result of all of that!