NHS & VHA: Transatlantic Exchange of Ideas and 'Lessons Learned' on Adoption of Health IT Solutions

Britain's 2020Health.Org has just released a major report outlining how the United Kingdom can transform its healthcare system by enhancing its existing collaboration effort with the U.S. Veteran's Health Administration (VHA) and by sharing technology, knowledge and lessons learned on the effective use of Telehealth, personal health records (PHR), and the open source VistA EHR system. The 92-page report is entitled "Making connections - A transatlantic exchange to support the adoption of digital health between the US VHA and England’s NHS." The well-written and documented report lays out step by step how Britain's National Health System (NHS) can create a digital revolution that can significantly enhance its ability to provide health care.

The report lays out how Britain's Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt, can achieve his vision of a 'paperless' National Health Service (NHS) by 2018. Hunt's announcement was intended to reflect the government’s dedication to ensuring that information technology (IT) continues to become a core part of the future of the NHS. Hunt believes that that health IT could help the NHS tackle some of the major challenges it faces, like containing costs and caring for an aging British population

According to the report, if the NHS is serious about going digital it should continue to build on an existing, collaborative partnership with the U.S. Veterans Health Administration (VHA) to revolutionize healthcare, in the U.K.  Effective use of Telehealth, Personal Health Records (PHR), and the use of open source Electronic Health Record (EHR) solutions are just three key areas where both systems can share lessons learned and best practices with each other.  See http://www.2020health.org/2020health/Publications/Publications-2013/Making-Connections.html

Research behind the report into the use of information technology (IT) by the VHA shows that its hospitals and clinics consistently provide a better quality of care than most other health systems in the U.S., and at a lower cost. Prior to transforming itself through the use of both open source and commercial IT solutions, the state of VHA hospitals were ridiculed as ‘socialized medicine gone predictably amok’.

What the 2020Health report showed was that it is not just which services are implemented, but how these services are implemented which will ensure the successful use of digital health in the U.K. John Cruickshank, co-author of the 2020Health report said that "Whilst successful use of technology has been a key enabler to success in making digital health the first route for delivering a service, it is the underlying culture, leadership, processes and training that have been paramount to the VHA’s success.”

The report also points out that there are lessons learned by the NHS that VHA can take advantage of regarding the use of health IT solutions and best practices, especially with regards to mobile health (mHealth). NHS has incorporated patient feedback and choice into on-line and mobile health services, including the social media tools.

Some specific recommendation contained in the 2020Health report if the NHS is going to achieve an effective digital health-enabled service include:

  • Senior leaderships commitment to care ‘at a distance’, e.g. Telehealth.
  • Finding ways to ensure that digital health becomes a key delivery channel for service.
  • Embedding the core competencies for 'digital health' into the curricula of doctors, nurses and allied health professionals, and relevant local authority staff
  • Setting up secure messaging and electronic Personal Healthcare Records (PHR), an essential tool in empowering patients and improving self-care in the future.

Julia Manning, Chief Executive at 2020Health has stated that policy makers, MPs, and the public should be challenged and reassured by systems such as the U.S. Veteran’s Health Administration (VHA) where transparency, openness, information technology, and putting patient’s at the heart of practice were crucial to turning around a failing system over the past few decades into one of the best in the country.  See "Best Care Anywhere – why VHA Healthcare is better than yours."

The 2020Health report "Making Connections: A transatlantic exchange to support the adoption of digital health between the US VHA and England’s NHS" was released on March 13, 2013. The report was sponsored by an unrestricted educational grant from NHS, 3 Million Lives, the VHA and Robert Bosch.