Skip to main content

Lessons that healthcare can learn from the retail world

Date: February 25, 2019

Category: Industry news

GS1 standards have already revolutionised the retail sector – now they are shaping the future of healthcare too.

It’s no secret that the secretary of state for health and social care, the Rt Hon Matt Hancock, is an avid campaigner for the use of technology in healthcare. 

As an advocate for technology, since he was appointed to the role in July 2018, Mr Hancock has frequently expressed his goal to make the National Health Service (NHS) in England the most digitally advanced in the world. 

His speech to mark the launch of the Topol Review, was the most recent announcement highlighting his digital transformation plans for the NHS. During this speech, he made a direct comparison between the capabilities of technology in retail and those displayed in the NHS. 

He stated: “Right now, Tesco has more sophisticated and more efficient systems than the NHS. They know who you are through loyalty cards, where you shop through store IDs, and what you buy through the items scanned at the checkout. That wealth of information means they can run their operations with just-in-time deliveries and market their goods to shoppers with personalised discount vouchers.” 

“In the NHS, we don’t have anything like that. We don’t use common identifiers to identify patients, we don’t know which hospitals a patient has been to, we don’t know which medicines have been put into them. We don’t know what we already know!” 

For the retail industry, the implementation of unique identifiers for products and locations, has revolutionised commerce – changing the way transactions are carried out daily across the world. 

By encoding unique identification data into a simple, standardised barcode format, products can now be shipped, tracked, traced and sold at the touch of a button anywhere in the world. This is true interoperability in action. 

The GS1 system of standards for identification, data capture and sharing, has empowered retail stakeholders with the essential detail of “who, where and what” that is needed to successfully conduct global commerce. 

What makes this all the more important for the NHS, is the heightened criticality of the who, where and what – lives could depend on the facts. Despite the availability of this information in retail, the healthcare sector is yet to fully harness the potential of driving the universal adoption of open standards. 

There is a distinct lesson that the NHS can learn from retailer. As Matt Hancock stated: “A world in which a hospital can’t pull up a patient’s GP record to see the reason for stopping and starting medications is downright dangerous”. He is, of course, absolutely right. 

Through the adoption of open standards – unique identifiers for people, products and places – and the means to capture this data in a standardised and accessible format, NHS trusts, suppliers and manufacturers will be able to leverage their capacity to share vital data between systems and organisations. 

The benefits of GS1 standards have already been proven, and not just by the Scan4Safety demonstrator sites, but several acute trusts across England that are making strides to adopt GS1 standards. 

In doing so, these trusts have been empowered with the means to correctly identify the right patient at the point care, improving both medicines safety and asset management as well as enabling real-time traceability and streamlining of their supply chains. 

Routinely capturing the who, where and what, has allowed these trusts to improve their operational efficiency, make financial savings and most importantly, provide better patient care and safety. 

When referring to the Scan4Safety programme, Mr Hancock went on to say: “I want to see this taken up by the entire acute sector… so staff have to make scanning a routine part of their working day… it takes seconds, but saves hours”. 

Building on the international success that GS1 standards adoption has had within the retail sector, there is no reason why the same cannot be brought to bear in the world of healthcare. 

The end result will be an integrated and interoperable NHS, future-proofed and able to deliver on its guiding values and principles for generations to come. 

GS1 UK stands ready to support the NHS throughout its journey, continuing to save thousands of lives and millions of pounds.

Find out more about GS1 standards in healthcare 


GS1 UK healthcare conference 2019

GS1 barcode usage increasing in healthcare products

GS1 General Specifications version 19 now available