Catching up with our digital progression in health and social care

Tuesday 27th April 2021 by casadmin
Doctor holding phone

The progression in the use of digital technologies to support virtual services in the health and social care sectors has been fast.

The Kings Fund[1] recently observed that the necessity to make services safe for patients and staff have provided organisations the single-minded focus needed to overcome prior hesitancy and disagreement related to digital technologies and forced organisations to put aside processes that had previously hindered the widespread adoption of digital technologies and virtual service models.

What have we seen?

The range of digital technologies available for the health and social care sector is mind boggling. I couldn’t possibly do them better justice than this article so I won’t try. Instead, I want to focus on the longer-term picture – the post covid world we are all hoping will be on the other side of summer – when we will finally have a chance to catch up with the digital progression, take a breather, and work out how we harness what we have learned!

Other commentators have observed that responses to covid have been local, those who had established technologies in play were able to roll them out more easily than those starting from scratch, and smaller organisations were able to adopt new processes and approaches quickly while larger organisations took longer to make decisions and roll out changes. This varied and localised approach reflects what we have been hearing from our clients – that what has worked is local organisations taking local steps to meet the needs of their local communities.

So how do we catch up with our own progress?

So, what happens when the pandemic dust settles? How do we learn which bits of the new systems and services we keep and which we say goodbye to? How do we refine what we have and use an evidenced based approach to inform its adoption and future development? It may feel like a long way off, but we are helping our clients now to plan for the following, so they have everything in place for when that breathing room finally arrives:

  • Working out what a mixed model will look like in the future – how can organisations balance the value and need for face-to-face interaction while harnessing the contribution that virtual services have to offer?
  • How do we overcome the digital exclusion elephant in the room with so many of the communities that services are desperately trying to reach are also those more likely to be digitally excluded it is clear that the response needs to be prioritised?
  • How do we bring back user-led design and service co-production into our organisations following a period of rapid change with little time and scope to consult and involve others?
  • How do we tackle the staff skills, training and resourcing implications of the new models of delivery we have set up, on top of the pre-existing staff shortages and resourcing pressures with an increasingly burned-out workforce?
  • How do we bring in robust data collection, monitoring and evaluation of the new technologies and service models to understand what works for who, in what context and why? We need to inform future service delivery using the invaluable learning during the pandemic.

The answers to these questions will look different for different organisations. We are helping our clients to work through these questions within the context that they are in operating in to identify pragmatic, proportionate, useful, and practical ideas, answers and plans. Central to this is helping organisations to learn from each other, reflect on the elements that they want to hold on tight to, and identify ways to overcome some of the challenges associated with rapid paced change under immense pressure and uncertainty.

Clare Hammond is a Director in the Edinburgh Office and leads our Health and Social Care work across the UK. If you would like more information on our work or how we can help you please get in touch with