Why Digital Health is like a ‘box of chocolates’
by Kwesi Afful, Digital Innovation Lead at North West London Collaboration of CCG – 31st July, 2018

Most of the benefits associated with engaging and embracing digital health will not be realised unless NHS and Social Care organisations take Digital health seriously, properly train their staff on digital health and patient care will suffer.

The NHS employs a rich mix of people from all sorts of backgrounds, similar to a box of assorted confectionary.

Yet when that ‘assortment’ relates to digital health skills in terms of knowledge, experience and confidence in using, the impact threatens the NHS ability to transform, evolve and most importantly be fit for purpose.

With digital health being widely viewed as the way the NHS must go, what can be done to ensure the assortment of digital skills available doesn’t plunge the NHS into deeper trouble?

Digital health, chatbots, machine learning, population health, apps, interoperability, online triage, video consultations, e-referrals, e-prescribing… however we personally feel about these things, the NHS is changing and changing fast. Digital health is the most referred to buzz-phrase since Polyclinics was coined.

The NHS in its current form is not equipped to deliver improved patients outcomes. The population are leaning more and more on high cost interventions such as A+E, DNA’ing, systems which do not integrate and a workforce that has to keep up with the demand.

This means that there is a real chance for digital health to turn the national health self into the proactive health service that gets us to self-manage, access our records and be empowered to live healthier lives. The ‘assortment’ of NHS employees is best placed to facilitate this change, yet there is a big problem. The skill-mix of the people isn’t the problem, it’s the lack of knowledge, experience and  overall confidence

Digital health and its priorities are well communicated at plush roadshows, health expos etc. Brilliant strap-lines are delivered and we clap saying ‘yes that’s exactly what needs to happen’. Yet the work around digitally enabling the workforce is widely ignored and the plans for each organization, I expect, are non-existent and viewed as optional or seen as “what’s the minimum effort we can apply to this and get maximum benefit.”

The reason why most organisations fall into the above categories is because of the cyclical way we manage projects and new ideas in the NHS. This is due to the number of projects and initiatives that NHS orgnisations are tasked with each month and each financial year.. Everything has to be delivered ASAP with associated savings found and delivered ‘in-year’. Such pressure inhibits even the most switched on senior management team of changing the way they work because they simply do…not …have…the… time. So staff awareness and application of what’s involved with digital health becomes haphazard, varied and dangerous, as patients could get the wrong information, misdirection and lack of information on how to engage a digital NHS.

So what can be done?  We need to make sure we plan, invest and deliver and:

  • Decide how you will train your entire workforce and what you will train.
  • Accept the fact that it will require funding to allow everyone to be sufficiently trained and be committed to changing. If you fail to prepare then you are failing your patients.
  • Follow-through on your plans despite any issues that threaten them. Delivery will show that you care about your staff which in turn means that you want what’s best for your patients.

So many things in life are like a box of chocolates and it can be a surprise. But when it comes to actually delivering digital health, having a workforce education programme and digital citizen education programme, you can be assured you have an effective workforce who can help the NHS transition become a world-class and modern organization, where each employee is doing their part.

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