The Department of Health will not compel patients to use digital channels to communicate with government, says its technology head Paul Jones
The government's policy of compelling citizens to contact public services through digital channels will not apply to healthcare, according to Department of Health's chief technology officer.
Paul Jones, one of the architects of the health service's Information Revolution strategy, is expected to tell the Smart Healthcare Live conference this week that the Cabinet Office's "digital by default" mantra will not be imposed on NHS patients. Rather, he said, patients will continue to have a choice of face-to-face encounters with clinicians. "The Information Revolution is not about forcing anyone who is not comfortable with the idea to transact online," he said in an interview last week.
Jones's portfolio of responsibilities at the Department of Health include information policy, transparency and NHS-wide technical architecture programmes, including smartcards and security. He is also the department's representative at the NHS Information Centre and sponsor of the National Information Governance Board, which has just appointed a formidable new chair, Dame Fiona Caldicott.
He reports directly to Christine Connelly, director general for informatics, saying: "I see myself as someone who understands how information flows around a modern enterprise and how to make it happen."
Jones keynote speech at Smart Healthcare will be scrutinised for clues into the department's forthcoming response to the consultation on the Information Revolution document. He is expected to suggest that, while there has been no change of mind over the core elements of the strategy, the government is anxious not to be seen imposing yet another grand information plan from the centre.
"When I'm asked about the information the revolution, questions are generally couched in terms that it's something we're doing to the NHS. That is absolutely not the case," he said. "Questions about the NHS information revolution are always couched in terms of something we're doing to the NHS. That is absolutely not the case."
Indeed, he says that the information revolution is happening from the bottom up - whether the NHS likes it or not. Society is changing, he says, giving the example that twice as many children starting primary school are able to use as smartphone as can tie their shoelaces: "As the new generation comes through, the way people look at health services is going to get to a tipping point. We need to recognise that it's happening."
However, reflecting concerns in the consultation about privacy and confidentiality, he stresses that the revolution does not imply an information free for all. "We should treat health and social care information as if it's precious. That means that you know where it is, that it is safe, and that you can get it when you need it."
The three attributes are not synonymous, says Jones. He tells the story of a visit to a Victorian-era hospital where the lift to the medical records department was out of action - the shaft had been jammed with lost papers. "Those records were certainly safe - but they were not being treated as precious."
Jones will talk of the information revolution applying to three constituencies: NHS staff, NHS patients and to citizens in general.
For staff, he will point to pioneering efforts such as Central Manchester's award winning Patientrack "track and trigger" system, which records critical care patients' vital signs on handheld computers as evidence that IT can improve patient care "at no real extra cost".
For patients, he will say that consumers increasingly see information in use in other walks in life and expect the same from the NHS: "For example, I can track a parcel all the way through its journey, but not a blood sample. It's what patients are coming to expect." Access to information include electronic access to medical records, but again he stresses that this will not be mandatory. "The information revolution is not about forcing anyone who is not comfortable with the idea to transact online."
As for the wider view, he will talk of the power of information to create knowledge, drawing on examples from Florence Nightingale's wards to current audits of diabetes care.
Jones has little time for the argument that "health is different". He points that the encounter between clinician and patient is supported by a huge number of information transactions, from scheduling to ordering tests: "Why shouldn't we try to make these processes work more like other things in the world?"
The department is expected shortly to publish its response to the Information Revolution consultation, though no date has yet been set. The exercise, which attracted more than 740 responses,* has now been subsumed into the "listening exercise" associated with the government's wider reforms. It will be followed by an information strategy for Liberating the NHS and then a technology strategy.
But while much detail needs to be hammered out, Jones says that the overall direction is clear: the information revolution will happen. While the Department of Health will not force patients down the road, it has no intention of getting in the way of people who want to use the new channels: "The idea that we should wait for everyone to agree before offering digital services is ludicrous."
* This number has been corrected: it initially read 470.
Paul Jones is speaking at the Guardian's Smart Healthcare Live exhibition and conference, on 14-15 June at Excel in London's Docklands. Click here to register for free entry
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Read the complete post at http://www.guardian.co.uk/healthcare-network/2011/jun/13/nhs-not-digital-default-paul-jones
Jun 13 2011, 12:08 PM
Healthcare Network | guardian.co.uk
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