Shake-up of NHS IT strategy promised

Wachter, NHS
“Getting hospitals and doctors to computerise took some new money, and they also knew that if they did not implement the systems, they would get penalised”

Both Hunt’s American ‘digital guru’ and Lord Carter says stronger incentives are needed to make hospitals adopt tech faster

[London, UK] Contracts should be changed to force hospital leaders more aggressively move to digital.

That’s an idea likely to be pushed to the Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, by his imported Californian health IT adviser, Professor Robert Wachter, according to an exclusive interview the consultant’s granted to The Health Service Journal.

Wachter, who is compiling a special report for the Department of Health on how to speed up a move to a more IT-centric UK health sector , is quoted in the magazine as looking into ways to change the financial and regulatory incentives in the NHS to do just that.

That’s because too many NHS leaders are focused purely on saving money, day-to-day operational pressures - and the fear of the negative consequences of a big IT project failing to deliver.

Is ‘meaningful use’ coming to the UK from the US?

“One of the fundamental challenges [the NHS has] to overcome is to ask the question: what is the incentive system that would have [a struggling hospital chief executive] saying ‘I need to digitise’?”

A better way to re-orient priorities so as to promote digitisation is reassuring leaders they’d have “the protection so even if they have a slightly bumpy [IT project] rollout it was the right thing to do”.

In the US, he tells the publication, this was achieved by the Obama administration’s idea of ‘meaningful use’, which gives hospitals cash incentives for investing in IT: “Getting hospitals and doctors to computerise took some new money, and they also knew that if they did not implement the systems, they would get penalised,” he pointed out.

But, he cautions, “How that exactly [it] translates to the NHS is an open question at this point.”

The idea of incentives may have more impetus behind it than just Wachter’s report, however - as in last week’s Lord Carter report on how to achieve more savings in the NHS, meaningful use was also suggested as a way to meet digital standards.