Nervecentre is in right place at right time for digital transformation

As the NHS kicks off the holiday season with a junior doctors’ strike, many health service staff and suppliers are looking at 2024 with trepidation. Not Nervecentre. 

The UK electronic patient record (EPR) provider has had a rollicking end to 2023, with three NHS trusts – University Hospitals of Derby and Burton (UHDB), Chesterfield Royal Hospital (CRH) and Northampton General Hospital – choosing Nervecentre as their preferred EPR supplier in the past two months alone.

In October, Ireland’s health service chose the company to provide software for acute floor services for unscheduled and emergency care. 

In an interview with Digital Health News, Nervecentre chief executive Paul Volkaerts said he is optimistic about the company’s chances to expand its remit, with more trusts set to go through the process of choosing a preferred EPR provider in the first two months of 2024. 

“We seem to have really good timing, which is a hard thing to achieve in business,” he said. “We are hitting the frontline digitalisation procurement process at a point when we are a viable option. For a long time there has been a gap in the market for an EPR that is usable, focused on the NHS and hits the right price point.” 

Nervecentre has spent 15 years building its EPR and doesn’t underestimate the challenges for suppliers in the market, Volkaerts says, adding that it has taken that amount of time to “hit the maturity of our breadth of features”. 

Despite the health service’s constant funding woes, he believes decisionmakers in the government and NHS England realise that digitalisation must remain a top priority. And he remains convinced that Nervecentre’s laser focus on designing a system for the UK health service has given it an edge over other competitors in the EPR space. 

“The NHS is fundamentally different from US hospitals and the processes in the hospitals differ,” he said, noting that the US system is more focused on billing, and has less developed systems of electronic prescribing.  

Noting that the Irish health service contract was Nervecentre’s first outside the UK, Volkaerts said the company is ultimately interested in expanding further; although it has around “half a dozen territories” that it thinks could be fertile ground for its business, the US is likely to be farther down the list. 

Creating links across regions 

Nervecentre’s most recent EPR wins are focused in the East Midlands, where University Hospitals Leicester (UHL) is already the main development partner for its next-generation EPR system. At UHDB and CHR, the company will be supplying a joint EPR system for both trusts. 

“Our desire is to address the healthcare challenges across regions,” Volkaerts said. “There is an opportunity to create a region that has seamless patient data across it. We have announced a couple of wins and there are more to come.” 

Ultimately, he added, transformation of the NHS will involve the ability to consolidate services and pair activity across regions where it makes sense to do so. The process also gives trusts a chance to look at the cost base for how they are offering services, but will be more challenging where there are different EPRs operating across a region, he said. 

Another challenge facing EPR providers involves resources. 

“There are lots of trusts going through a digitisation journey at exactly the same time, and that will cause resourcing challenges for everyone,” Volkaerts points out. “But it is important that they all get to a level of digital maturity as soon as possible and I don’t think it makes sense to tier that process.” 

For trusts trying to digitise in an environment that is already running at capacity, accommodating staffing needs will create further complexity, he says.

While many trusts prefer to step down activity levels at hospitals to accommodate the digital transformation process, this will be difficult to do with existing pressures, making the usability of systems especially crucial. 

“You have got to make that journey as easy as it can be, because these are tough times,” he says. “In normal times, you can afford to take staff out for training to minimise disruption from the go-live.”  

For this reason, Nervecentre has emphasised a progressive launch of its EPR in trusts, allowing staff to get used to some of the functionality that can produce operational benefits in the year before the go-live of the entire system. 

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This post originally appeared on TechToday.