A case of digital emergency?

Summary

By Dr Sam Shah, 25 July 2018

Photo of A&E department sign

It doesn’t get much more real than urgent and emergency care in the NHS.

Every day, our GP surgeries, hospitals and urgent treatment centres help people facing medical challenges from minor through to life threatening. The chances are that person will have used a form of digital technology to get the help they found, whether that be googling their symptoms or contacting any of our telephone and online support services.

For every person that uses the urgent care system our goal is get them the right information, at the right time in the right way, which means we have to help them navigate our very disconnected system without them having any idea of the complexity. And so the digital revolution is alive and kicking in this critical part of the NHS.

We have already made a lot of progress: we currently offer two digital channels to access urgent care services - 111 is the telephone line that uses digital infrastructure to quickly get people to the right kind of advice or help, and in most of the country we have 111 online which provides a web-based interface for people to take themselves through the triage process – it will be available everywhere across England by the end of 2018. However this is just a starting point.

We host one of the most widely used triage tools: NHS Pathways, which handles more than 16 million patients a year. The world of triage is growing at a rapid pace, and in order for us to be able to provide the best service for people we are working to help enable other digital triage systems to connect to NHS services. Collaboration is key for us to be able to address the speed of change in digital transformation.

Imagine the future of triage, where a patient gets a personalised experience that recognises their medical history, their medication and also their recent calls and encounters. Imagine a form of triage that doesn’t ask the individual to answer questions, where the NHS already knows who you are and can help immediately identify whether a headache for you means to take a couple of aspirin, or if your history flags a condition where a headache could indicate something far more serious, you are routed to the right service.

And that routing service is underpinned by the magic of data. The urgent care directory of services, DoS, really will revolutionise how helpful all of our frontline emergency helpline services can be. I think of DoS as the “Yellow Pages” of the NHS, containing information on opening times, capacity and location of NHS services, including pharmacies, hospitals, GP surgeries and treatment centres. We are working to bring all this information together and find the simplest way to keep all of the information as live and accurate as possible; the ambition is that it will be possible to book into those services directly depending on your need, the convenience of the service and its waiting time/capacity.

We’re committed to this data-driven approach, which not only helps speedy and accurate triage decisions but also helps the clinician receiving a patient who has come through the urgent care system – they know their history and they have been appropriately triaged.

Data has long been the life-blood of digital transformation, and it brings us into the world of machine learning, AI and the world of biometrics – but we must start with getting the data right, and the processes of collecting and updating that. Then we can continue to perfect the personalised service enabling often life-saving decision-making at the point of crisis in health.