Staff training key to a digital NHS future

HEALTHCARE staff should be trained in emerging technologies such as genomics, digital medicine and artificial intelligence to ensure the NHS is equipped for the challenges of the 21st century.

That is one of the key messages of the Topol Review which looks at the role of technology in the future of NHS care.

The report states that, within 20 years, 90 per cent of all jobs in the NHS will require some element of digital skills and staff will need “digital and genomics literacy”.

The increased use of technology is not intended to replace healthcare professionals, it states, but will “enhance them” and free up more time to care for patients. In a digital future, processes such as diagnostics will be faster and patients in turn will be "empowered to participate more fully in their own care".

The UK, the review adds, has the potential to become a world leader in these technologies but it admits the greatest challenge will be achieving a "culture shift in learning and innovation, with a willingness to embrace technology for system-wide improvement".

The independent review was commissioned by former health secretary Jeremy Hunt and was led by California-based cardiologist, geneticist, and digital medicine expert Dr Eric Topol.

It proposes three principles to support the deployment of digital healthcare technologies throughout the NHS:

  1. Patients need to be included as partners and informed about health technologies, with a particular focus on vulnerable/marginalised groups to ensure equitable access.
  2. The healthcare workforce needs expertise and guidance to evaluate new technologies, using processes grounded in real-world evidence.
  3. The gift of time: wherever possible the adoption of new technologies should enable staff to gain more time to care, promoting deeper interaction with patients.

It concludes: "The Review has shown that opportunities afforded by the promise of genomics and digital technologies to prevent disease, predict the most efficacious treatments, deliver personalised care and invite active participation in wellbeing and support self-management must not be missed.

"The widespread adoption of these technologies has considerable potential to deliver service improvement, markedly improve productivity and the accuracy of diagnoses, and help to ensure a sustainable NHS."

The review has been welcomed by health and social care secretary Matt Hancock who has been pushing for digital innovation in the health service, most recently banning the purchase of new fax machines and calling for email to replace pen and paper.

He emphasised the importance of leadership in pushing ahead with the digital agenda and announced plans to have a chief information officer or a chief clinical information officer on the board of every local NHS organisation within the next three years. This will be supported by the launch of the Topol programme for digital healthcare fellowships, designed to train future digital leaders.

Link: The Topol Review - topol.hee.nhs.uk/