Published by Luke Percy
November 23, 2023
This week has seen the NHS reaffirm its commitment to the use of large-scale digital data sharing and processing, with the award of a £330 million, seven-year contract for the provision of a Federated Data Platform (FDP). As originally described in the NHS’ documentation, the project aims to provide a system that will “sit across NHS trusts and integrated care systems, allowing them to connect data they already hold in a secure and safe environment”, to be used by organisations within the NHS in areas such as elective recovery, care coordination, and supply chain management. With NHS organisations traditionally existing siloed off from one another, such a platform has the potential to dramatically improve aspects of the health service’s administration, analytics, and patient experience.
The journey to awarding the contract, however, has been a rocky one. Initially intended to be awarded at the end of September, it was pushed back multiple times – first delayed until mid-October, before that date too was passed and the award was finally made public on 21st November, at which point both its maximum investment value and contract period had changed substantially from what was originally announced. As it stands, the project is in its very earliest days, and it remains to be seen exactly how the resulting Federated Data Platform will come together.
Regardless of the exact form that the FDP ultimately ends up taking, though, it’s clear that the NHS intends to continue to expand its handling of digital data – a trajectory that is in keeping with its previous push for Electronic Patient Records (EPR). As both these projects continue to mature, the digital data that the NHS is handling and processing will only increase in size and complexity. Managed successfully, this could result in a transformative experience for all involved: reduced wait and discharge times for patients, faster and more accessible data for clinicians, and broader trend and demographic data for local health teams to better understand the needs of those in their community. However, as the importance of digital data increases, so too does the need for deep visibility into the performance of the system that supports it. With more and more of the data that staff and clinicians handle every day existing digitally, issues with application health or network performance can have dramatic impacts on the vital and often time-sensitive work being conducted. Internal IT teams, already stretched due to limited resources and high workloads, may find that the task of quickly diagnosing unidentified issues within their systems is beyond their current capabilities.
Thankfully, there are solutions designed exactly for this purpose. Tools like Cisco’s Observability Platform and ThousandEyes provide valuable insight into performance and behaviour occurring on both the wider internet and an organisation’s own environment, allowing for powerful diagnosis tools to be levied against any application or user that might be experiencing issues. As part of ITGL’s recent work with Birmingham Community Healthcare, we helped the NHS Trust deploy ThousandEyes in order to diagnose unexpectedly high latency on their network, particularly when accessing a clinical app linked to the EPR system. With the issue causing delays to patient care and impacting the ability of BCHC staff to work effectively, as well as a lack of visibility making diagnosis difficult for the internal IT team, it was vital that a solution be found to allow the root cause to be identified quickly, and steps be taken towards resolution.
In the case of BCHC, the fault was found to be lying with the clinical app itself, rather than their systems or network, and they were therefore able to raise the issue with the app host to move towards a solution. Without the visibility provided by the ThousandEyes platform, the Trust could have inadvertently spent valuable time and resources attempting to chase down a fault in their network that in actuality did not exist. As well as helping diagnose this existing issue, BCHC will now continue to benefit from the enhanced visibility going forward, having already been eligible for the ThousandEyes licences as part of their pre-existing Cisco investment. And with ThousandEyes being agnostic to the underlying implementations in use, the Trust can expect to continue to exploit its capabilities once FDP becomes a reality, whatever form it takes.
In the often high-pressure, high-stakes environment of the healthcare sector, reacting to problems when they occur can be highly disruptive, time-consuming, and costly. Introducing clear monitoring of infrastructure and systems – from the clinician and their device, all the way to the data host and application provider – Trusts can begin to be proactive in detecting changes in system performance, network behaviour, and how these correlate with other changes within the system. By detecting issues before they ever manifest into problems that affect users or systems, Trusts can then avoid frustration and loss of productivity amongst staff, application availability can be maximised, new digital technologies can more easily be adopted, and IT teams can focus on other tasks at hand.
ITGL is at the forefront of digital transformation within the healthcare sector, helping NHS Trusts and Partnerships across the UK to realise the greatest possible value from their existing investments, and collaborating closely to develop solutions that provide truly transformative benefits, both now and into the future. To find out more about the work we’ve done in the sector, you can visit our website, or reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can also find out more about ThousandEyes and the benefits it can bring to the healthcare sector here.