In the second feature running to coincide with the HSJ Innovation Summit this week, we look at why many healthcare IT professionals are reluctant to read the forward view, let alone understand it. Is NHS strategy’s guidance on technology true only on paper, Shane Tickell asks

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Technology in healthcare

Technology in NHS

History tells us that the NHS has been riddled with strategies, plans and policies to help deliver the best possible care for patients.

In recent decades we have seen the Information for Health strategy, the NHS Plan, Connecting for Health, and the e-government initiative all attempt to influence change on the NHS.

In all these strategies, to varying degrees technology is seen as instrumental to making change happen.

Why not delve into it?

Shortly after the launch of the latest major NHS strategy, the NHS Five Year Forward View was announced, I attended three healthcare IT conferences. The audiences were asked if they had read the document.

To my surprise, less than half the room on each occasion raised their hand to indicate they had read it.

‘Is there an element of cynicism when a new plan is launched?’

It is a bold document that challenges the NHS to embrace and invest in technology, putting a huge emphasis on information and data. So why are experienced healthcare IT professionals not reading it?

Have tried and failed strategies, coupled with years of hard work to deliver them, left an element of cynicism when a new plan is launched?

Unlike traditional strategies, which were often enforced, the most recent documents are there to influence and encourage, and to give freedom at a more tactical level.

Reluctant approach

NHS England is proactively driving interactions and discussions and openly engaging with industry, but despite this, there is undoubtedly still some resistance by healthcare professionals to take direction from the centre in any way, shape or form.

To gain real benefit from technology and the strategies that are put in place to help support its adoption, we must be open to new ways of working, challenge the norm and encourage knowledge, whether that be our community or with organisations like NHS England, which appear to have evolved into more of a facilitator of change than a top down, bureaucratic body.

‘Those who are not open need to reconsider their mindset’

We have been in an information age for more than 40 years and we need to be open minded about not only how are we using information now but also planning and looking ahead to advance healthcare.

Those who are not open to new ideas, models and innovations, whether it be open source, telehealth or apps, should consider why they are working in healthcare and if it is because they want to improve patient safety and care through whatever means possible, then reconsider their mindset.

Understand with an open mind

The forward view, together with the Personalised Health and Care 2020 framework, are not just documents that need to be read. It should be people’s business to understand it, to absorb it and to align their organisations with the key points.

When you look at the recent King’s Fund report on leadership vacancies in the NHS, it reveals that the average NHS chief executive spends just over 2.5 years in post. Each chief executive will identify different priorities and ultimately have a view on what programmes should cease or continue. Too often, change in leadership results in IT projects being implemented half heartedly or not being implemented at all.

‘Collectively, and with strategic guidance, there is a greater chance of success’

The importance of strategy lies here, by keeping organisations on track to achieve its end goals. In addition, it also allows IT directors, chief information officers and chief clinical information officers to be given the power to influence changes and introduce new ideas and innovations to meet current and future requirements.

No single leader within the healthcare industry has all the answers, but collectively, and with strategic guidance there is a far greater chance of success being achieved.

After all, we are all aiming for the same goal: better, safer patient care. Information and knowledge are key enablers for this, and can make previous ways of working obsolete, and even supersede tried and tested treatments or processes. But this can only be achieved if those that matter are open minded to different technologies.

Shane Tickell is chief executive at IMS MAXIMS