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On October 17, 2013

The National Programme for IT in the NHS was predicted to be the world’s largest civilian IT project, instead it is now deemed to be one of the worst and most expensive contracting fiascos in the history of the public sector. It is no wonder that many of those working in the NHS do not trust technology, but Shane Tickell, CEO of healthcare IT company IMS MAXIMS, urges them to keep the faith.

The past is not a prediction of the future and much has changed in the 11 years since the inception of the National Programme for IT (NPfIT). Clinicians are more engaged in IT, technology is more affordable and a whole raft of new systems are available to address the challenges of the modern NHS. So why do many frontline staff continue to be sceptical about its benefits and will this ever change?

There is a misconception that healthcare professionals who do not engage with technology are from a different generation or are not tech ‘savvy’. But ask those same healthcare professionals whether they have a smartphone, use online banking or social networking sites and I guarantee a huge proportion of them will know how to navigate those systems quickly and efficiently.

The truth is that often they do not fear the technology, they fear it failing them and that it will result in them losing the dwindling time they have to care for patients. If using an IT system takes any more time than using a paper process even just during the initial training phases, then the trade off, in many instances is simply considered not to be worth it.

Adding unnecessary extras
So how can this be addressed?  Engagement – strong, focused clinical leadership across an organisation with staff that are prepared to embrace and integrate IT into their day to day routines. Engaging at all levels allows suppliers to understand exactly what healthcare professionals need to deliver, better, safer patient care and not delivering unnecessary extras that sound like a good idea, but that will actually create extra levels of complexity, effort and cost.

For example, I may have the ability to remotely monitor my washing machine, tumble dryer or television from my smartphone, but do I really need this, or is it technology overkill, and is it just a case of the bang not being worth the buck? It’s much the same for our healthcare professionals, if they don’t need or use the functionality from day one then they will often decide that it is just an added complexity to their day that they no longer desire, and the faith in the initial exciting concept is lost.

Sharing experiences
Similarly, there is so much to learn from peers. What growing pains have they already gone through in implementing a particular system, and how have they achieved their successes? Can you look to them to demonstrate how they have deployed a successful and working solution that is providing benefits for staff and patients alike?

EHealth Insider recently reported how University Hospitals of Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust (UHB), which has developed its own ‘world class IT system’ will be ‘imparting it’s wisdom’ by helping neighbouring George-Eliot Hospital consider the same approach and develop its own use of IT to empower improvements and positive change.

This is incredibly refreshing but unfortunately it appears to be a rare example of a trust providing a hands-on approach to sharing best practice. In fact, I have met with dozens of trusts that seem to be starting from scratch and all have the same concerns and ask the same questions, because they are all starting from the same point.

I cannot help but wonder if, as a nation, we could develop a library of experience, good and bad, that could be drawn on from far and wide, to ensure the fiascos of the past are not echoed time and time again.

National and international conferences provide great opportunities to share experiences, but as part of that we should try to move away from opinion about the past hindering the voice of those truly inspiring organisations that have actually understood the need, studied the market and taken their organisations on a journey that has resulted in success in the form of tangible benefits to patients, staff and the organisation as a whole.

Pairing the good with the bad
Central direction in encouraging this type of approach would be extremely useful, much like health secretary Jeremy Hunt’s recent announcement to pair failing hospitals with ‘good performers,’ perhaps IT should also be a component of this strategy? But on a more tactical level, even a central repository for organisations to document the work they have done, the skills and resource required and the outcomes of the IT project could be extremely beneficial. Just imagine having a simple online library in chronological order that could be accessed by any NHS professional that wanted to access information that enabled them to plan, implement and realise the benefits of a particular technology. And what better time to make a start when NHS trusts are about to receive thousands, perhaps millions, of pounds in central funding from the ‘Tech Fund.’

Ultimately, like in virtually any other industry, having faith in a product or a system comes from past experiences and referrals from people you trust about what to expect. If the NHS had access to this in an easily digestible and accessible way, perhaps faith in technology will gradually be restored.

  • By Natalie Chishick   
  • IT, National Programme for IT, NHS, opinion, Social Media, Technology

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