In November and December I was lucky enough to spend time with the IT leadership of the UK and Ireland, I collated the responses to a series of questions for an interview that HIMSS would then publish in two parts, here is the whole thing to give you a feel for how close the concepts of cross country collaboration are really coming along.
Some of the blog is written in the third person, it just felt a little odd interviewing your self without doing that, I hope you don’t mind.
Digital leadership in health in 2017 will have two crucial elements to handle, how to keep the ‘ship’ stable in times of change and how to deliver innovation in large, public sector organisations. In November the UK and Irish leaders of healthcare technology were face to face at a number of events that had these traditional pillars as the themes. Whilst they all accepted these had been at the heart of their focus for a few years now they still observed that 2017 would see a still further push to get these right or potentially fail to deliver for health in the countries they are responsible for.
The events where these leaders came together were, the Irish Innovation Showcase where Will Smart provided a key note that caused a pause in the IT leadership as they stopped to understand if they had the strategy right; the HIMSS Executive Leadership Summit where Andrew Griffiths provided an opening comment that got the whole crowd energised; Richard Corbridge then provided an opening statement with George Crookes at the Scottish Annual Digital Health and Care Conference that entertained and delivered a key message on the future and then finally Sean Donaghy who opened the first Island of Ireland collaborative Eco-System.
During this period of time HIMSS caught up with each of these leaders to get their views on what 2017 holds for digital in health and what they thought of the statements being made by each other and how they could support each other into the new year.
We went first to Will Smart at the Innovation Showcase. Will, what do you believe is the key to innovation in healthcare in 2016?
“Strong collaboration between leaders, healthcare professionals and patients is of fundamental importance. We need to move away from a paternalistic view of healthcare to one which truly embraces engagement and co working. As well as fostering the trust that is vital to the data sharing innovations that put cutting edge insight in the hands of clinicians, collaboration has the potential to create a culture which encourages, accelerates and inspires technological excellence.
That is why, through our NHS Innovation Accelerator and Global Digital Exemplar initiatives, we are supporting the most technologically innovative people and acute trusts to help them connect with partners, make networks and accelerate their innovations. We want to enable these pioneers to inspire others by showing how information technology can deliver both improved patient outcomes and enhanced business effectiveness.
Our patient centred agenda, combined with this type of collaborative support and leadership gives us a once in a lifetime chance to innovatively set technology to work for a system that’s focused on patients and led by clinicians.”
The concept of no longer being able to stand still have become key to the delivery of healthcare, will digital innovation be the route to avoiding this do you think?
“Absolutely. The NHS is under real pressure. Not only is the occurrence of expensive to treat conditions such as obesity, diabetes, cancer and mental illness rising rapidly but we are all living longer and therefore need more care over the course of lives than ever before. So, to continue to deliver great care we must make our service as efficient as possible.
Innovation in information and technology is a critical part of almost all Sustainability and Transformation plans because it has immense potential ensure efficiency while making dramatic improvements to health and care provision, quality and outcomes.
Our planned new digital products and services will make health and care more accessible, more convenient and more effective for patients. As a result, patients will have more power to make better, more informed choices about their care which will also ultimately be more cost effective. Insight we can gain through shared information will also help us improve efficiency by ensuring that the right kind of care and treatment is given at the right time, from the start.
Standing still is not an option for the health and care system. Information and technology innovation has huge potential to help us provide more, and higher quality, care from the resources available to us at a time of increasing demand and this is an opportunity we must seize.”
Next to give us his views was Richard Corbridge from Ireland, Richard, this was Ireland’s first innovation week, what prompted Ireland to put such an event on? “First and foremost it was to bring the idea of Digital Health into the eye of the public. We have had over 3,200 individuals booked into the events in one week, all our events have been free and have garnered a significant level of interest from the people of Ireland. If the patient, the tax payer, wants to see digital in their health system to make it safer and more efficient then maybe an understanding of the level of investment that can be made can be got to. Secondly though the week of events has created a ‘platform’ to enable innovation in the Irish healthcare space to really begin to happen, and perhaps more importantly be supported, Ireland has an engaged clinical team, it is now starting to make the connections between clinicians and the technology leaders of the country.”
What do you see the blocker to innovation in healthcare being? “In Ireland it can be sheer resources, funding and time being the hardest to come by. More generally in healthcare I would say it is the concept of building the jumbo jet as it flies down the runway, as digital leaders we have to keep so many moving parts on the go, the temptation is to focus on these and we can’t, we have to keep an eye on the future. There is a story of a bridge built in Honduras I have been using in presentations recently, an amazing bridge, started in 1989, by the time it had finished due to environmental changes the river it was spanning had moved. We have to be mindful of this happening to our plans and enable innovation and new technologies to influence them.” We then caught up with Andrew from Wales at the HIMSS ELS; you spoke of ‘not checking the Daffodils too often’ which went down well as an analogy, can you explain what you meant? “First to explain the analogy, aside from playing to the Welsh stereotypes, if you keep digging up a plant in the garden because it’s not growing, the very act of checking everyday ensures the plant never grows. There can be a tendency in health IT to give up too quickly and declare the project a failure, spending all our energies on checking and explaining, when what’s needed are steady nerves, encouragement and the will to succeed.The most troublesome periods in any implementation can be the early days, people are not used to the system, support can take longer as training becomes practical knowledge and the IT hasn’t settled down. Inevitably the first period is also when most changes are happening and every change is an opportunity for a problem. Admittedly there are times when the plant is a weed and needs to be killed off quickly but in my experience more often it’s a plant that needs nurturing. If we “fail fast” at every perceived problem we might never achieve anything, some of the great achievements have needed great perseverance.” As digital leaders what do you think the key strategy for leading in these times of most unpredictable change can be? “I’m not sure there’s a simple answer to this and if there is, please someone tell me. However my thoughts for what they’re worth are that: we need to be clear about what we are trying to achieve and recognise that in achieving our goals “digital” is not an end in itself but the means to something greater.
We need to keep that vision in our heads and keep doing things that gradually get us there. That will inevitably mean spotting opportunities that occur and changing the plans so that we can take the opportunity. It would be great to be able to stop the world, design it, then start again but the reality is that we have to make running repairs that are actually leading to a complete rebuild. We need to be developing great people who know the right things to do because they share the vision. Finally, somehow we need to summonses the courage to create certainty for others so that they, unburdened, can confidently get on with the doing.”
George was the next of the group we were able to speak to, the idea of the UK and Irish digital healthcare leaders being able to share more seems new, what do you think can happen if this is enabled?
“The days when we not only had to own the problem but also own the solution are over. It was wasteful in terms of time and money and we do not have the luxury of either! The benefits of sharing thoughts and ideas as well as good practices, lessons learned and solutions is mutually beneficial. The challenges our health and care systems face are the same, the largest part of any technology supported solution is generic. So, it is not rocket science to suggest that collaboration is the correct path to follow.”
The annual digital health and care conference in Scotland had a great selection of speakers, Richard spoke about different ways to engage stakeholders, how do you see that influencing the way we deliver digital health in 2017?
“The need to involve stakeholders from all communities of interest is fundamental to securing sustainable and scalable solutions to the wicked problems we face. The perceived effort it takes to engage the public can be reduced and the outcomes magnified by using innovative methods to support the process. The need to use multiple digital channels for engagement is going to become the norm going forward and will transform how we plan, develop and deliver services.”
The ability for countries to come together is highlighted through these leaders willingness to share, perhaps no more so will this make an immediate patient difference than between the Northern Ireland healthcare system and the healthcare delivery of the Republic of Ireland. Sean Donoghue opened the first whole Ireland Eco-System meeting in this same week with a rallying cry for collaboration on the delivery of standards and the ability to share key lessons learnt.
Sean, seeing the start of an Irish cross country collaboration at the Eco-System this week, do you see this model evolving across the EU?
“Inevitably it will, the key issue is whether it is driven forward by public and private health systems, or whether systems and leaders have to be pulled reluctantly to the table. Collaboration across systems is a key support to better sharing of citizen information and best digital care practice in to support better health and wellbeing across the EU.
We have that need right now, with a large land border that citizens of this island cross as part of their daily lives, including for health and social care. Too much of the approach up until now has had the feel of ‘make do and mend’, and that will not support our citizens to get the best from their own efforts and from health & social care resources. We have fantastic potential to build a shared digital fabric that can remove some of the worst impact of a land border on the experience of our citizens, and we’re determined to realise that potential. That means taking action now on shared citizen identification, and on shared standards.”
All of the leaders we have spoken to in the last week place the patient and clinician at the centre of the digital revolution, how does the Eco-System meeting do this and how do you ensure this is maintained beyond this initial coming together?
“The driver for sharing is the needs of citizens; that is very well recognised by health & social care staff, who voice their frustration at the barriers to communication, and thus to better care.
The Ecosystem meeting provides a place to check in, to celebrate successes, to remind us of what remains to be done, and to provide a public space for health and care systems and those who supply digital solutions to set out the agenda for further work. It is a visible and important signal of our intent to work together.
Sustaining this approach requires commitment from leaders, and of course, visible progress. The commitment is there, and the early signs of progress are encouraging. I am confident there is much more to come to inspire collaboration as the default way of working.”
In two weeks these five digital leaders have moved forward an agenda of collaboration, sharing and evolution in healthcare perhaps more than the UK and Ireland has seen in the last five years. The spirit of working together in times of change would often be described as the spirit of England, but, this collaboration shows that in digital health it has become a spirit of the five nations!
All of the leaders commented on the amount of change in 2016 being unprecedented, however they all spoke of ways in which they had built a strategy to cope, maybe what change will do is foster a degree of collaboration that the global healthcare system has not seen before. We asked a final question of the two leaders from the island of Ireland, what was their own predication for 2017 in digital health; the Republic of Ireland’s CIO said, ‘We will see the ability to deliver complicated care information digitally to the patients of Ireland and allow patients the ability to add information to their care record in such a way as to enable it to be useful to clinical staff.’
Sean’s final comment perhaps is a shining example of how this group are starting to think when it comes to the transformation of healthcare; “The most exciting development is the sharing of information with citizens, and building shared workflow to provide more flexible, tailored care. I expect tangible progress with all of my colleagues on this in 2017.”
Richard Corbridge finished off a number of the presentations over this period of time with what is becoming almost a trademark phrase of his, Imagine A World, the conversations with these five digital leaders allow us to imagine a world where the much promised future can actually become a thing of reality, where integrated care can be delivered through a digital platform and patients will feel that the care they receive is within their own context, a huge leap forward for how these countries enable innovation in the health care system.