MEMBER BLOGS

Michael Thick

Making data sharing a reality

Michael Thick
Date: 21st May 2019

One of the greatest challenges with digital development isn’t changing the technology, it’s changing the culture within the NHS and social care.

Year on year, access to new technology continues to grow, but we can’t realise its benefits unless everyone is part of the journey.

The current digital revolution isn’t the first of its kind for the NHS. More than 10 years ago, the government attempted to instigate change. But despite the best intentions, the systems that were developed just weren’t fit for purpose. It was something being done ‘to’ the NHS rather than by and for health and social care professionals. Understandably perhaps, clinical professionals weren’t happy about the processes, as it became more difficult for them to do their jobs. To see real success, we can’t just develop systems and expect people to pick them up. We have to ensure they’re actually supporting people to deliver the best care, and that they can be used in the right way and to full effect.

In order to make implementation of digital systems a reality, we need to learn from our mistakes. We can see the landscape changing now, and there is much greater acceptance of the idea that this must be something that we do together with professionals. We’re seeing more engagement than we have before, and we have a greater percentage of younger, more tech savvy people joining the workforce. One of the key steps to digitisation, is ensuring that we get the backbone right – ensuring that information can be easily shared
across systems.

PRSB’s work to engage clinicians, individuals and care providers in the development of clinical standards for information sharing is ensuring that the right people are being involved in the work. With many standards now complete and more on the way, the organisation is beginning to see standards being adopted by trusts across the country. Those that are implementing standards are seeing positive benefits, due to the fact they have been designed by the people who will be using them. The next steps will be to share these results as widely as possible, so that we can raise awareness about the benefits.

Moving forward, it’s going to be vital to listen to professionals and understand the ways they’d like to work. For example, many young junior clinicians are now turning to Whatsapp, because they need a speedy way to share information. Systems that work well for clinicians are not necessarily being implemented quickly enough, meaning that professionals are using their own routes. However, this does show the need is there, and that the emphasis is shifting. Meanwhile Chief Clinical Information Officer for Health and Care, Simon Eccles, has backed the Secretary of State’s vision for a data-driven future in the NHS. He has publicly advised against the lure of ‘shiny new things’ in tech, while putting more emphasis on the importance of getting the backbone of care right - which starts with good information sharing.

We’ve also seen a shift in the drive towards citizen access to records and people’s involvement in their health and care. It’s a really important aspect of care, and although there’s still a lot to do on this agenda, it’s great to see so much engagement on this issue. By implementing digital shared care records, we’ll be able to better support people in accessing their records and managing their own health.

The next steps are imperative to the future of good care. A lot of the trusts have managers of digital transformation, which is supporting the development. Trusts need to be sure these teams stay people focused and engage the wider staff body. Technology is important, but we don’t want to skew the system towards the technical and risk alienating those without those skills and interests. I believe we need to make intensive training easily available, including at board level so that decision makers can fully realise the benefits and support their staff in implementation. With the support of all professionals across health and care, we can make digitised data sharing a reality.