[UK comment] I read a great article in the October 4th issue of Health Service Journal (HSJ) that had a simple headline posing the question, “What’s at the heart of integrated care?” At first glance, you might think this would elicit a complex answer – but, actually I don’t believe that’s the case.

Hannah Farrer, author of the article and current Director of Strategy and System Management at NHS London, alludes to five key enablers that need to be in place so the NHS can work as one system:

  1. money
  2. governance to allow the flow of information
  3. behavioural change in care providers that is centred on patient care and quality
  4. an active partnership with patients; and
  5. that all clinicians need access to patient data across care settings and organisations.

I completely agree with Hannah in her assessment. Interestingly, if you were to ask me the question, “What’s at the heart of integrated care?” my answer would simply be, “data”. As an IT vendor, you might expect me to say that providing access to patient data across all care environments – NHS and social – is paramount, albeit interdependent. But I genuinely believe that data is the lifeblood of a hospital and is at the heart of being able to provide an integrated approach to healthcare. And I am not alone. Tim Kelsey, Director of NHS Commissioning Board, recently called for a “data revolution” to overcome some of the challenges the NHS face today. (Source: http://www.cio.co.uk/news/3405598/nhs-director-sack-me-if-there-isnt-data-revolution-in-healthcare/)

Let me pick up on several other statements in the article regarding patients and what they want:
“People want coordination. Not necessarily (organisations) integration”
“People want care. Where it comes from is secondary…this means no big gaps…”
“Patients should be able to say “I was always kept informed”
“Shared knowledge of the patient…”
“I could see my health and social care record at any one time to check what was going on”.

If your data is not in order, how can you even start to deliver an integrated approach to the provision of care or facilitate those areas that the author cites as being important to patients? Being able to provide data to the people who need it, when they need, where they need it requires a clearly considered and defined healthcare data management strategy and I would stress ‘healthcare’ here. Many vendors have vanilla, non-industry specific, data management solutions that do not ‘speak the language of healthcare’. So it’s important that care providers work with data management specialists that understand the nuances and intricacies of this sector.

Fundamental to providing integrated care is the ability to store data efficiently and intelligently, protect sensitive patient data, and share data across individuals, departments and organisations. Only by doing this, can care be truly integrated, or in the words of the patients, “coordinated”.