Twice a year I have the great honour of being able to bring the eHealth Ireland team together to spend a day thinking. No, really thinking!

The team spend every working moment executing and delivering, to grow our influence and ensure the needs of the healthcare system are met. To create connections the team needs time to think. Being allowed to not concentrate on just the execution for a short period of time, to consider approaches, to build knowledge and absolutely most importantly to create connections, is essential to the success of my organisation.

The theme for the event in the spring is connectivity, if you hadn’t guessed already! In the very wise words of those denim clad rascals from the late 90s the Stereo MCs,

“I’m gonna get myself, I’m gonna get myself, I’m gonna get myself connected”

How to win friends and influence people by Dan Carnegie was written in 1936, and yet Ted Rubin a man who I think is the most influential social media marketer in the world today describes this as the most important book in modern digital business, why, because it truly describes what a connection is! Dan Carnegie describes how to connect with a 100 people in a successful career, we now look to connect with a 100 people a day to grow our community of influence, and yet, Carnegie’s book is still applicable to the strategy, tactics and benefits of doing this.

Wherever you are right now look around you. Stop what you are doing and take a look, how many connections are within your glance? In a world where we talk about the connected patient and connected healthcare delivery have we really considered how connected the delivery agents of eHealth need to be. The country of my residence is described by many as the most socially connected country in the world, in the words of Kevin Bacon,

“I know a man, who knows a man, who knows a man, who knows a man….”

eHealth Ireland and the wider team are coming together to explore how this connectivity can bring value to all that we do. Knowing a man who knows a man means we have access to a wealth of knowledge that far out paces individual experiences. Imagine the connections in a team of 300 people, the community of reach that can be achieved by empowering personal connections.

We are technologists on the most part and therefore connectivity and networks can have a dual meaning. Often the technology definition will rise to the top of this, and yet we are coming together as a team to create a community. The great Ted Rubin mentioned above defines the difference so eloquently,

Network = Personal Reach

Community = Reputation and Responsibility

He has created a great story around how a community can change the default narrative to the point where we stop discussing Return on Investment (ROI) and start talking about Return on Relationship, he has even launched a successful hash tag (#RonR)around this, he asks followers to stop worrying about what’s next and start executing on what’s now.

He poses that a connection is made from reputation, and the width and consistency of that network is what will lead to the creation of a community. eHealth Ireland has a delivery agenda defined through to 2020. This agenda can flex based upon the benefits that patients in our community feel they need to see available to them and through a clinical feedback connection put in place by the Chief Clinical Information Officers council. The team responsible for the delivery though is growing and now needs to truly come together as a community of interest, another IT term repurposed for the development of the team.

Connections and the age of influence is where we now head as an organisation, weekly someone will stop me in my tracks and exclaim that they have not heard of eHealth Ireland, what we are building or how is the team structured, this just when we think we have got this connectivity thing sorted and that communications is something we are good at. Even our own committee has asked that between now and June we consider more creative ways of connecting with the public of Ireland to get the message across.

How to get this right though seems to come back to the personality of connections. On a recent flight to London something strange happened. The City Jet Captain came to see the passengers before take-off in person, he came out to say happy Saturday and welcome aboard, simply put he came to make a personal connection.

How does that make you feel, certainly more valued as a customer, this wasn’t a by rote learnt speech it was his attempt to make us all realise we are all human and the interaction between customer and company should be a real connection built upon trust. Interestingly the flight was delayed on the tarmac and yet as a customer I felt that my new ‘connection’ would be working hard to get us off the ground on time.

The ability to nurture the relationships we have as colleagues is not always easy. We are scattered around the country and have a ‘day job’ to deliver upon. And yet the return on relationships for the organisation is formidable. Take the recent #IrishMed hour on twitter, whilst not a personal face to face connection a truly inspirational and very frantic hour as hundreds of patients and clinicians from across the globe came together to advise and pass opinions on how Ireland should implement an EHR. Over four million impressions in one hour over twitter against just four key questions was the highest rating yet for #IrishMed hour. The connections though that this began to build were the real outcome, not the volume and numbers of tweets. The relationship with IPPOSI through the co-hosting of the twitter chat is now a ‘friendship’ between two organisations.

Clicking a button and following a person is not creating a connection. As citizens of the internet we need to take back the word Friend from social media and consider how we make this word work for connections we need to make, how do we do this, through building trust? As a leader I have always valued accessibility, openness and transparency particularly. I have always wanted to connect with my team at a level that allows us to work together against an agreed an agenda. Its not always straight forward to make this happen but as a leader I am trying. Certainly events like the #ONEeHI event allow us to make these connections that we value so much

A community is defined by the relationships created I think, any IT delivery function has to have clearly defined hand over points between departments to be successful, I pose to the team at the next meeting that the silos that exist in our organisation can be broken down through the creation of a community.

The success of clinical research in the NHS in England has been built upon the concept of networks and connections for many years, even the organisational name reflects this, Clinical Research Network. The careful removal of command and control functions from wider organisation took time, but eventually the organisation has earned its autonomy and is a network of resources with the same goal but against different therapeutic specialities. As a vision to aspire to this works well, the idea of earned autonomy proliferates through the new health structures of Ireland too, and as we now move away from a geography based delivery function towards national support and delivery functions the concept of earning autonomy can apply even more so, after all we want that engagement and inventive nature of each and every member of staff rather than a command and control automation.

Peer to peer relationships across functions become learning sets and sharing sets. A supportive function has to be the goal of our transformation programme. We have an operating model that we all agree on, we don’t yet have the full complement of resource to achieve this but we do have a chance to begin the journey.

The biggest hope and wish though is that the eHealth Ireland team does really become a connected team and at the first all staff meeting of the year everyone feels empowered to make the connection they need to.