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Health and Social Care coming together through HSCN

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If the Brexit negotiations were showing a fraction of the momentum we’re seeing in the NHS’s preparations for the move from N3 to the new Health and Social Care Network (HSCN), I’d have some confidence that we might actually be out of the EU before I reach pensionable age.

Although January to May 2018 will likely be ‘peak N3/HSCN migration’, we are already seeing encouraging levels of enquiries and project planning that suggests health and social care organisations have taken on board advice to engage early and start benefitting quickly. Heads here are down and focused, working hard on the detail of network transitions for customers. Which is great for me, as it leaves me free to keep my head up, to look at the emerging post-N3 landscape, and to explore the potential of an HSCN-enabled world.

A very different world too. One in which end users will be able to take advantage of a wide range of solutions, overlay products and services running over the same network, bringing both economic efficiency and operational advantage. A world in which free market economics will encourage more providers, which doesn't just promote competition but also stimulates innovation and experimentation and imaginative reworking of partnerships and relationships.

This functional richness and allied supplier energy and dynamism is essential if HSCN is to transcend its material network and deliver on its ultimate vision: to support a world where anyone involved in the delivery of health and social care can access the records, information and services they need to do their job from any location at any time; and to facilitate the delivery and usage of new tools, applications and treatments that can positively impact on quality outcomes and the ‘from cradle to grave’ care of UK citizens.

HSCN will therefore be the enabling platform for more mobile and remote working, more shared online system access, more regional collaboration, more ‘joined-up’ thinking and less ‘silo’ mentality. No longer should we have to query whether all relevant information about a patient or condition is known, or risk making poor, incompatible or even dangerous treatment choices because of a data deficit.

HSCN will also be the transport for the flow of applications coming out of independent software vendors (ISVs) that are potential game-changers for clinicians. We already have hard and fast examples of real technological sophistication, such as rapid radiology reporting services, with delivery in less than 20 minutes to hospitals and other healthcare departments. There are Big Data projects, AI-led initiatives, secret squirrel R&D stuff that we can’t even conceive of yet, but it is all now possible, the barriers are being rapidly dismantled.

And what’s really exciting is that we’re seeing people push on that possible envelope, excited by the potential opening up to them to discover the new or to find better ways of doing the old.

Take those in the community care area, for example. Currently clinicians working in the community can make notes while with patients, but in many cases they have to wait until they are able to access the network to upload data - often waiting until they are home or back in the office. This means vital patient care information updates can be delayed by 24 hours or more and are, as a result, unavailable from one service provider to another. But wireless projects across care trusts affording secure connectivity back into clinical systems at a stroke removes that latency. Moreover, the patient record that they access should be providing them with a holistic view of that patient’s history, an end-to-end reading of treatment, medications, appointments, notes and observations, from, critically, both a hospital and social care perspective.

This latter point, the joining up of health and social care, cannot be overstated. It’s prompting perhaps some of the most progressive thinking out there at the moment, in terms of leveraging the potential of HSCN. We’re currently in discussions with a county council about deploying HSCN, PSN and Janet as the foundation for a whole new approach to joined-up care, linking local education, social services, GPs etc to ensure everyone has the complete picture with instant access to a fully integrated citizen/patient record. ‘We missed something’ will no longer be sufficient mitigation in any incident enquiry because this sort of inclusive, unified approach will close up the gaps.

Comprehensive data, more accurate data, the data volumes that this new interconnected, interoperable era will likely generate, that too has huge, indeed seismic ramifications for research, resourcing and pre-emptive triage or intervention. I can’t imagine just what will be available in ten years but I know there will be many examples of amazing, radical improvements to how we care for people and how we treat patients. Not just in the technology used, but in the process, experience, timeliness, place and outcome. Come 2027, I guess the EU will be a two-letter dirty word. But HSCN will be the acronym that keeps on giving.

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