Digital transformation at a major teaching hospital with insights for higher education

How data interoperability enabled University Hospital Southampton to transform care

To explore common challenges in digital transformation facing higher education and the healthcare sector, ucisa, in association with InterSystems, organised a webinar in which Adrian Byrne, chief information officer at University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust (UHS), offered important insights into data interoperability and best-practice that have great relevance for higher education.

The UHS experience shows how, with data growing exponentially and technology constantly evolving, organisations in higher education can transform their data use to become agile, forward-looking institutions that master the demands placed on them.

The webinar explained how InterSystems’ integration engine helped power a hugely ambitious project that seamlessly and securely integrated records across systems and departments at one of the country’s major university teaching hospitals. This streamlined and improved patient care enabled new medical technologies, and helped accelerate crucial Covid-19 vaccine workflows.


Watch On-Demand Webinar – Accelerating the Development of Open Standards: The Journey to Interoperability with University Hospital Southampton


Just like hospitals, higher education institutions must undergo digital transformation to meet the challenges of the mid-21st century. Almost all higher education institutions face challenges of enabling new forms of technology-driven remote and hybrid learning to keep pace with the wider changes in society. This will be based on implementation of advances in education technology and the availability and effective management of all forms of data – from personal details to highly complex research data.

The UHS experience shows how effective and innovative data-management can reshape services and pave the way for more far-reaching innovation in service delivery and efficiency. According to a recent University Business article, this has never been more necessary in higher education in England, where population growth and changed expectations may require “350,000 more higher education places by 2035.”

Scalability has become a major topic for higher education, as customer-centricity and the growth of experiential learning come alongside the current requirement for technologies such as adaptive learning, AI, chat bots, predictive analytics, and the use of augmented and virtual reality applications. With students wanting fast access to learning resources wherever they are, and digitally native academics demanding data-driven innovation, the impetus is growing for online and face-to-face tuition, remote and on-premises education, to achieve equal levels of excellence. However, delivery requires a razor-sharp focus on agility, simplicity, and cost-effectiveness.

The patient/student record and data structure

At UHS the core electronic patient record implemented under the scheme is a single database. This contrasts with common experience in higher education where multiple systems are the norm, acquired over time. The structure of the data at UHS is driven by its purpose, but in an area such as critical care, where data is very complex, the hospital employs proprietary data structures. As the programme progresses, the hospital will move to mobile and web applications, rather than a portal approach.

Compliance with data standards is also critical, since the key requirement is for machines to talk to machines, systems, and applications – all using FHIR (Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources). The aim is to concentrate on a build-out that does not require the data itself to move between systems, and for the data to be capable of outliving any system using it.

As in education, data standards are important not only because of the constant transfer of data between departments internally, but also because of the increasing importance of data transfers between organisations. In the university sector this has obvious parallels with the necessity to share administrative data with official bodies and supply chain partners. But equally, data standards enable the sharing of huge amounts of research and other data with partners and other institutions.


For those working within IT in higher education, many of the challenges outlined in this webinar will be familiar. With a large number of different applications and systems, and an ever-growing volume of data, health and higher education institutions alike see the importance of digital transformation for greater efficiency and economies of scale. This enables a future that delivers new kinds of learning experiences in a customer-centred approach driven by technology.

What the UHS experience demonstrates is the critical importance of data integration and interoperability. Without effective integration, digital transformation and the effective implementation of e-learning, analytics, AI, and mixed reality technologies is almost impossible. Processes remain clunky and inefficient, providing a sub-standard user experience. Genuine digital inclusiveness and the development of high quality remote or experienced-based learning will be difficult to achieve.

A simplified data architecture is an essential foundation for this, but so are data standards, which will be increasingly critical in the academic sector where the sharing of highly detailed information effectively and securely is essential to everything from advanced research to the automation of many administrative tasks in on-boarding and enrolment.

UHS has shown higher education organisations how integration powers a major programme of digital transformation involving huge amounts of the most highly sensitive data. Achieving this seamlessly and securely – while streamlining efficiency and transforming performance in the middle of a pandemic – is considerable.

Watch the webinar to find out more.

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