The National Health Service has placed an increased focus on digital transformation, to help alleviate the pressures it faces. It is understood that adapting to an increasingly digitally engaged society requires full-scale digital reform across the healthcare sector. In this blog post, we take a look at what is needed from digital health and how our work with OpenEHR is supporting the digital transformation of the National Health Service.

While research and development into cures for disease and more efficient means of detecting illness has been vastly improved and funded, how patient data is stored, visualised and utilised has not changed in structure or format for many years. Taking the lead from countries like Norway, innovators and healthcare SMEs are working together to bring the technological advancements seen elsewhere, to a sector that could truly benefit from streamlined, efficient and global access to data.

The state of healthcare

Historically, patient data and medical information was collected, viewed and distributed in paper format. However, the advent of computers saw a steady rise in digital documentation. While still held locally, within the confines of individual health trusts and organisations, patient detail and subsequent medical information was input into computers. While a vast improvement from paper-based processes, data being held in isolation has led to a series of information siloes being established across the NHS.

The rise of Big Data and the Internet of Things have encompassed the digital roadmaps of industries for quite some time – and the health sector is no different. Increased focus has been placed on how information is being shared, and how it can be integrated into other systems to create a connected, fluid communication process for the collection, analysis and use of medical data.

Amalgamating paper-based processes and locally-hosted digital solutions – and transferring them into an overarching health database – seems like a natural evolution for the health sector. However, despite attempts to streamline health data and digital records in a way that creates fully integrated, interoperable and scalable e-health systems, healthcare digitisation remains fraught with challenges.

The OpenEHR platform

OpenEHR is a semantically-enabled health computing platform that promotes an open data and open API approach to digital health. This medical data repository has offered tremendous advancements in the development of digital healthcare solutions, but there are still limitations that prohibit the widespread application of a monolithic, interoperable digital healthcare solution.

The limitations to OpenEHR lies within medical data itself. Putting the sheer size of global health data to one side, there is still no single established terminology or narrative that can globally define illnesses or symptoms appropriately. As such, the interoperability of healthcare data needs to be assessed.

There are three tiers to healthcare interoperability, but OpenEHR focuses primarily on semantic interoperability.

What is semantic interoperability?

Semantic interoperability enables IT systems and software applications to communicate, exchange data and utilise the information being exchanged usefully. As such a common digital vocabulary is needed to truly pave the way for accurate and reliable machine to machine communication. Without a system that supports semantic interoperability among disparate IT systems, usefully sharing medical data becomes impossible.

Currently, the products, standards, technologies and in-house solutions in circulation across the health sector do not offer true integration or interoperability. Previous attempts at integration have also proven unsuccessful.

As such, what is needed across the health sector is a monolithic digital solution that can a realistically support the data required by clinicians and healthcare professionals, but also be able to handle the ongoing high rates of change to data, requirements and functionalities.

In a sector bound by budgetary constraints, and haunted by previous failings to link all parts of the National Health Service together, a massive digital expenditure is not ideal. Especially if there is no guarantee of success or control over the product, data or outcome, as often (and previously) see with traditional software development practices.

Digital health systems in a Nutshell

To tackle this, Nutshell Apps have created a tool that allows anyone with OpenEHR access to choose a data structure applicable to their specific needs and auto-generate a fully functional smartphone app in an less than a minute.

This is a genuinely major technological breakthrough, and a massive step forward in the facilitation of a unified digital health network. What’s more, this tool resolves many of the issues that both OpenEHR and the global health sector have identified as barriers to innovation previously.

Nutshell Apps is a no code, drag and drop app building platform that allows users to create streamlined smartphone and tablet apps without having any technical knowledge whatsoever. The platform has been distributed by the Code4Health initiative, to help foundations and trusts to create data-driven apps in minutes. This new iteration of the Nutshell platform takes mobile app development to the next level by giving clinicians the opportunity to take charge of the app building process themselves; from specification through to deployment, at the touch of a button.

This allows healthcare professionals to retain control and ownership of the data being generated, but also ensures that any changes that need to be made to the platform – whether this be upgrades, changes in requirements or functionalities – can be done by clinicians themselves, without the need for an app developer or tech team.

The collaboration between Nutshell Apps and OpenEHR is not just a technological breakthrough for the NHS, but for the global health sector. The potential of preventative medical healthcare – as well as an overarching, unified global health network – is no longer a health industry dream: the future is here, at the touch of a button.