Digital Architecture

IT Integration Biggest Block to Integrated Health and Social Care – The Case for a Scottish X-Road Platform

Scotland's Auditor General identifies the need for a national integration platform like the X-Road system operated by Estonia.

Scotland has an bold ambition to achieve an integrated approach to Health and Social Care.

Naturally the bedrock of achieving this would be the integration of the systems involved, however as the Auditor General reported a lack of these joined up systems is a primary contributor to progress not being made in achieving this goal.

Specifically in their progress report they identify:

“An inability or unwillingness to share information is slowing the pace of integration

Throughout our work we were told of examples where this was not happening in practice, because of local systems or behaviours. Examples include:

    • GP practices being unwilling to share information from new service pilots with other IAs;
    • IAs themselves being unwilling to share performance and good practice information with others; and difficulties in setting up data-sharing agreements between IAs and ISD.
    • Different interpretations of data protection legislation are not helping with the ease with which information is being shared.
    • As identifying gaps in data about community, primary care and social care services and establishing how this information will be collected. This is something we have highlighted in several of our previous reports.
    • NHS and social care services are made up of many different specialties and localities, often with different IT systems, for example, systems to record X-ray results or record GP data. Many of these systems have been built up over years and commissioned separately for different purposes. Some services still rely on paper records.

This is mirrored by conclusions identified in the Technical Architecture report from Digital Health and Care Scotland:

    • “Most of the organisations surveyed have integration capabilities and the social care products in use do support APIs. However, the use of these APIs was found to be fairly low and system integration was often achieved using bespoke development techniques.
    • Interoperability is a key challenge for all health boards and integration is in all cases achieved using InterSystems Ensemble. The survey discovered the lack of semantic interoperability standards (such as SNOMED CT) lead to potential patient safety and clinical workflow issues due to incompatible systems being integrated together.
    • Data sharing agreements are common place among the organisations surveyed with most having data sharing in place with NHS boards, other Local Authorities, government and/or police. While the agreements were in place, practically applying it had come with its challenges.
    • Establishing data sharing agreements were cited as a key challenge to sharing data with other organisations.”

Audit Scotland then describe the impacts of lacking these integrated capabilities:

“Sharing of information, including both health and performance information, is a vital part of providing effective care that is integrated from the point of view of the people who use services. It is also vital in helping to anticipate or prevent need.

This disjointedness has an impact on people who need care and on the ability of health and care professionals to provide the best support that they can. For example, people with multiple and complex health and care conditions can have to explain their circumstances to many different professionals within a short space of time. This can delay people getting the help they need, waste resources and gets in the way of care provision being more responsive to people’s needs.”

The Case for a Scottish X-Road Platform

What’s most important about the Auditor General’s analysis is their primary recommendation.

First they highlight:

“Local data-sharing arrangements need to be in place so that professionals can appropriately share and protect the data they hold.”

Which sets the scene for development such as ‘Regional Data Exchanges’, like this one being pioneered in Aberdeen.

However they go on to say:

“Time and money are being spent on fixing local IT problems when national solutions should be found. Local fixes are being put in place to help overcome datasharing barriers. This includes bringing teams of staff together under one roof, so they can discuss individual cases, rather than relying on electronic systems such as internal emails to communicate.

Local areas are spending time and money implementing solutions which may continue to be incompatible in the future. There is a need for a coordinated approach to the solution, which includes the need to consider a national, single solution for Scotland.”

The huge opportunity for Scotland is to avoid the huge time and expense of reinventing the wheel because this single solution has already been developed and proven, by the world’s leading digital nation Estonia, their ‘X-Road’ system.

It’s also available as open source software with a supporting skills program from organizations such as NIIS.

X-Road : E-Estonia’s National Middleware Platform for Integrated Digital Government

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Editor of the DigitalGovernment.io site.

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