Winning hearts and minds to go digital

Health Education England’s Chief Information Officer examines the work of the New Care Models Programme to create a digital ready workforce:

Angela Fraser doesn’t mince words. She’s a specialist nurse with over 20 years’ experience. She can read a novel on her Kindle, book a holiday online and order milk on her Amazon app.

“But am I a digital expert?” she asks. “Am I heck!”

Yet in recent months Angela has begun a new phase in her career as a digital leader on the new care models programme.

Her story is refreshing to read – captured in a series of blogs from digital leaders – and I am sure resonates with many people who work in the NHS, who often feel “bamboozled” by technology.

The leadership programme, however, is more about winning hearts and minds than technical know-how, and this is crucial in a culture that cares deeply about patients yet has failed to keep pace with technology that can help improve patient care and experience.

In the NHS we estimate there could be as many as 60,000 digital natives – that is people whose primary job is to deal with technology, data and information services. That’s a considerable number, yet we haven’t reached a point where we have a mature workforce that feels comfortable using digital technology at work.

I was struck by the remarks of one of the other digital leaders, Rich Ellis, a neurologist at the NHS Walton Centre, who refers in his blog to a ‘lamentable lag’ in Britain joining the telemedicine revolution, although he is unequivocal about the benefits it can bring to patients and clinicians.

At Health Education England, one of our main drives is to build a digital ready workforce. Our mission is to help everyone in health and care to become confident in the use of data, information, knowledge and technology – in other words, digital – to help them deliver the outcomes of their role quicker, easier, safer and at a higher level of quality.

Therefore, we are very supportive of the New Care Models Digital Leaders’ Programme: vanguards harnessing technology with a clear focus on integrated care and new collaborations across the wide range of services that patients use, particularly those with complex long-term conditions.

For example, Angela, at Gateshead Health NHS Foundation Trust, has been heavily involved in introducing a digital solution for local care homes that provides early warning signs of a potential deterioration in a resident’s condition.

She’s been working with Rachel Forbister from Sunderland Clinical Commissioning Group who is also looking at new tools to manage hydration, pressure ulcers and falls.

Rich in the Neuro Network across Cheshire and Merseyside is piloting a teleneurology initiative that can be used across the hospitals in the region for patients wanting faster diagnosis and treatment from specialists, saving them lengthy trips to their centre in Liverpool.

Rachel Tatters, a nurse leading a Recovery at Home vanguard programme in South Tees, has introduced tablets to help nurses share patient information electronically while out on their rounds looking after patients in their homes.

These digital leaders are starting to share their experiences, playing out the ‘hype cycle’ that takes people on a rollercoaster journey.  They spiral peaks of inflated expectations – technology is the silver bullet – often dipping into troughs of disillusionment which are the barriers to adoption. Yet through dogged determination and strong leadership they start to build a momentum that is changing patient care for the better.

The Digital Leaders’ Programme has created a national platform for nurses, doctors and other care professionals at the coal face to inspire their peers.  Often resistance among health professionals to new technologies holds things back, so it is important to hear the voice of those clinicians who are leading technology-enabled care.

Having time and space to step out of your day-to-day working demands is another significant barrier. This programme gives each digital leader a total of 40 days of protected time for their projects, helping to develop their leadership and influencing potential, and their coaching and mentoring capabilities, all of which can be a great help to others on a similar trajectory.

Inspiration and stories of personal success are powerful drivers of change, of that there is no doubt. What gives this programme added strength is that each digital leader, on completion of the course, is awarded a postgraduate certificate in Technology-Enabled Care Service from Cumbria University. This elevates this worthy endeavour into more formal accreditation that recognises the skills required in managing business change – a feat in itself – using digital solutions.

I hope it will encourage others to take notice of this pioneering and innovative work.

James Freed

James Freed is Chief Information Officer for Health Education England and is passionate about digital literacy and the professionalism of health informaticians across the health and care system.

He trained as a molecular biologist for several years before making the move to process redesign and IT. James worked in hospitals in South West London for the Cancer Services Collaborative. He cut his teeth on national IT implementation following a move to NHS Connecting for Health where he worked in pathology, order communications, and prevention, screening and surveillance.

James moved to the Health Protection Agency where he managed an operational Information Management department. He then became Head of Information Strategy at Public Health England.

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  1. Lee Gridley says:

    Fab blog James and I couldn’t agree more. Helen Arthur is leading on some sterling work around technology within the New Care Models programme. Myself and Pollyanna Jones have grown the ‘futureNHS’ collaboration platform from scratch which initially began life within the New Care Models programme but now resides within Charles Tallack’s Operational, Research and Evaluation team. The platform currently encompasses facets from the health care sector including STPs and ACS’s throughout the country, local government, ALB and 3rd sector groups et al. My experience is that, to use your term digital natives, there are lots of out there…they just don’t realise it. Outside of work everyone collaborates using technology but become a ludite between ‘9 and 5’. Persistence and technological passion help break down these barriers and bring about behavioural change but it takes a lot to reach that mass moment where users eventually ‘get it’.