Selling the benefits of a digital frontier in a beleaguered workforce

Digitally, we have come on leaps and bounds in the NHS. In my career of nearly 20 years in nursing and midwifery, we now have electronic observation systems, fast developing electronic paper record (EPR) systems and savvy electronic prescribing and medicines administration (EPMA) systems. You no longer have to fill and fax forms for ambulances, and in many hospitals, DECT phones have appeared replacing the pre-historic bleep systems. Although I’m pretty sure I still hear those bleeps in my sleep!

Digital transformation is much more widely recognised and spoken about. I am in awe of my Trust’s ICT department and the things they can develop onto our current system. They really push the boundaries of it and make great things, and we currently have a large drive to reduce the paperwork and turn it digital. I have colleagues on the Digital Pioneer Fellowship from the same Trust who are all working on very exciting projects.

I have worked in an official digital role for over a year, as the Trust’s Clinical Safety Officer (CSO) and also a Digital Nurse. I have oversight of various projects with both my CSO hat on and just as a general nurse/ midwife looking at the systems from an end user perspective. Prior to my official appointment I had various digital projects under my belt mainly from just showing keen interest in them and therefore assisting colleagues to ensure it was well adopted on the front line.

Bring frontline staff on the digital journey

It’s a very exciting time to be in the NHS if you’re a digital geek like me. But the hardest challenge I face is convincing many frontline staff to come on board and make the leap. Frontline nurses, Doctors, Midwives and Allied Healthcare Professionals do tend to love a pen or a board marker. It’s their comfort blanket, and all through our career it is drummed into us to “write it down or it never happened” so breaking that chain is sometimes hard. It can seem strange that we don’t have to input it on physical paper.

It is also true that sometimes introducing certain tech solutions is not always in fact a solution. We all know first of all that the NHS has such a broad age making up its workforce, from school leavers (like I was), late joiners who join post having families or in career changes later in life, to retired staff who return part time. The age range and generational differences are huge. Digital adoption is always going to be a challenge. But we are getting there, more and more people have a smart phone in their pocket, to access internet banking or book bank shifts online.

Implementing a new system

My project during the Fellowship was the update of our emergency departments booking in system, following its predecessor being in place for over a decade. In one of the busiest emergency departments in Europe, it’s busy, fast paced, with no time to come up for air – coming along with a new system was always going to be a challenge. “Why fix something that is not broken?” was a common question from staff, but they needed to see this new, attractive, clever, improved system to compare and see what they have been missing. But it was a challenge, with numerous bumps along the way.

Sharing learnings and facing challenges together

I applied for the DigitalHealth.London Digital Pioneer Fellowship in the hope that if successful, I would meet like-minded individuals from various organisations, and it certainly hasn’t disappointed. With each learning day, which albeit due to the global pandemic have been virtual to date, I have learned new skills and new ideas have been brought to the table from my colleagues and helped me to face the challenges I have faced head on.

I worried about being on the Fellowship with such interesting people who are working on amazing projects, and initially felt that my project wasn’t as exciting as other peoples. Eventually, as my confidence grew I was proud to talk about the project with the Fellows, and people noticed the change in my pitch. The project has recently gone live and staff are adapting to using it, some may even admit it’s better if you catch them on a good day. We are now at the stage of ironing the teething problems, but overall it is working well.

Looking to the future

The future of technology in healthcare is limitless. Whilst I have every faith that healthcare technology will deliver better outcomes and better care, I am acutely aware that the education of our workforce, the people that make healthcare happen must progress at the same pace. In the next decade I anticipate a much brighter future that sees technology at the forefront of everything we do. The Fellowship has given me ability to see that as a vision.

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