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Understanding NHS Digital Technology Assessment Criteria (DTAC) for digital health technologies used in the NHS and social care

In an industry as tightly regulated as healthcare, the introduction of new technology brings about its own set of unique challenges.

Where other industries have been quick to realise the benefits of technology, healthcare has traditionally lagged behind. This can be, at least in part, explained due to concerns around new digital tools not meeting requirements in clinical safety, data protection, technical security, and standards in interoperability, usability and accessibility.

That’s why the NHS introduced the Digital Technology Assessment Criteria (DTAC) back in February 2021, to provide an industry standard for legislation and best practices in these areas.

So what does this mean for an organisation selling digital health technologies into the NHS? How will it affect your working relationship with healthcare clients?

Essentially, the introduction of DTAC means two things. It will provide health tech suppliers with a consistent and proportionate level of framework to follow, meaning lifesaving digital solutions can get to market quicker. For healthcare providers, it will offer much needed reassurance that the technology they use meets strict standards to protect staff, patients and the communities they serve.

DTAC explained

DTAC is intended to be a one-size-fits-all baseline criteria designed for NHS organisations to assess potential technology suppliers. It acts as a vital component of the procurement process, helping healthcare providers complete due diligence and judge whether a new supplier meets the minimum baseline of standards before embarking on fulfilling a contract of proposed work.

It brings together legislation and best practices in areas covering clinical safety, data protection, technical security, and standards in interoperability, usability and accessibility.

Ultimately, DTAC was designed to provide healthcare organisations with a definitive framework to assess the eligibility of the suppliers and their products, whilst upholding the highest standards in data protection and patient care.

It sets out the standards that suppliers are expected to meet in order to gain entry into and benefit from a continued partnership with any NHS organisation, and the assessment criteria can be overseen by the organisation themselves or a third party for added scrutiny.

Why was DTAC introduced?

So why was DTAC introduced in the first place? What were the reasons for its introduction? Allow us to explain…

DTAC was a direct response to the uptake in digital adoption across the whole healthcare system.

In the past, there were too many grey areas for individuals responsible for NHS buying decisions to assess potential suppliers by. The knock-on effect of this is that organisations and the communities they serve to protect were being put at risk by partnering with technology solutions that weren’t fit to meet their needs. It also meant that potentially transformative technology couldn’t be implemented until more testing could be done.

Those making buying and commissioning decisions on behalf of NHS organisations wanted a clear and tangible set of criteria to hold suppliers to, one that couldn’t be misinterpreted to the detriment of staff and patients.

Now, if any supplier wants to introduce a piece of technology as part of an ongoing partnership with an NHS provider, they have to complete a DTAC form and provide any relevant evidence to support their application.

Each of the scored and assessed sections of the DTAC contains the following information:

  • a reference code for each question
  • the question for the developer to respond to
  • whether evidence is required and is so the evidence
  • response options or free text
  • supporting information and guidance
  • scoring criteria

With the introduction of DTAC into the procurement process, all technology products can be assessed quickly, fairly and consistently, ensuring the adoption process happens without delay or risk to patients.

DTAC’s aim is not to introduce new requirements into the procurement process, but rather to unify legislation and established best practices into one place to make the procurement process more thorough and efficient.

5 core areas of DTAC

The assessment criteria for DTAC can be broken down into the following five core areas:

  • Clinical safety: as part of clinical risk management, all new products are assessed to ensure they follow clinical safety procedures.
  • Data protection: to protect sensitive and confidential patient data, all new products are assessed to ensure to uphold patient privacy.
  • Clinical assurance: products are evaluated to ensure they are secure and stable enough for widespread deployment.
  • Interoperability: to ensure the seamless and secure sharing of information, all new products undergo rigorous testing so data is relayed accurately and securely between disparate systems.
  • Usability and accessibility: to ensure products remain easy to use and accessible to a wide range of users, a score will be generated to allocate conformity with existing systems.

Are you a healthcare organisation using DTAC?

Here’s how 6B can help:

  • We’ll assess your digital offerings to ensure they meet requirements
  • We’ll ensure any areas that fall below requirements are improved to meet standards set out in DTAC
  • We’ll provide support and guidance on preparing any necessary accreditation

 

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