A new collaboration from NHS bodies aims to improve patient safety through better use of digital tools
“Digital technology offers an opportunity to improve safety in clinical care through better reporting and monitoring, but we also need to ensure that new digital technologies are introduced safely.” Natasha Phillips, chief nursing information officer and director of patient safety at NHSX
NHSX, NHS Digital, NHS England and NHS Improvement have published a joint strategy on using digital technology to improve patient safety.
The Digital Clinical Safety Strategy has two main aims: to improve the safety of digital technologies in health and social care, and to promote the use of digital technologies as solutions to patient safety challenges.
The strategy has five commitments:
At the moment, responsibility for digital safety is often left to the people who design, manufacture, commission and deploy the technologies, the strategy document says. The aim is to create an understanding of, and commitment to, digital safety throughout the NHS and social care.
Unsafe care is one of the leading causes of deaths worldwide. Digital technologies have the potential to improve safety, the strategy document states, noting that scanning technologies that use barcodes to track data and devices “have reduced device and patient identification errors.” Other innovations that have improved safety include electronic health records (EHR) and remote monitoring technologies.
At the same time, digital technologies have the potential to harm patients if not designed and deployed with safety in mind. The disruption caused by downtime, for example, “can cause delays and confusion”.
An examination of safety incidents recorded in the NHS’s National Reporting and Learning System (currently being replaced with Learn from patient safety events service) found that 2,627 patient safety incidents recorded over more than a decade in England and Wales were related to failures in health IT. This is probably an underestimate, the strategy document states.
Improving patient safety, the document adds, will have “profound benefits for patients and reduce costs across the health system.” It could save 1,000 lives and £100m a year in care costs.
Natasha Phillips, chief nursing information officer and director of patient safety at NHSX, said: “Digital technology offers an opportunity to improve safety in clinical care through better reporting and monitoring, but we also need to ensure that new digital technologies are introduced safely. We will be empowering staff with the knowledge and skills to ensure safety will help us build a culture where safety is at the heart of all that we do.”