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20.03.19

The digital revolution for healthcare is now!

Source: NHE March/April 2019

Richard Corbridge, chief digital & information officer at Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, focuses on the practices his trust has put in place as part of its digital revolution.

After celebrating its 70th year, the NHS is faced with so many problems that are defined as ‘wicked.’ Digital is, only in the last couple of years, seen as a possible answer to some of those issues. A clinicians’ professional evaluation is to be robust, focused, and importantly to support their expertise in an increasingly demanding environment. In other arenas, digital and the Third Industrial Revolution has been the key differentiator for more than a decade.

Allow me to put this into a manageable context. The earth is 4.6 billion years old – let’s scale that to 46 years for ease. In this timeline, we humans have been here just four hours, our First Industrial Revolution began less than a minute ago, the third only began… now! Healthcare globally is the proverbial tanker ship to turn and maybe now, as that third revolution truly takes hold, digital leaders across the system, supported (maybe even driven) by a secretary of state who sees what digital can do, are at last being listened to.  

Faced with the transformational opportunities potential technologies can bring to the ‘formal’ business model, healthcare CIOs are now under pressure to lead innovation not only for traditional IT, but for our organisations as a whole. And why shouldn’t we be? We as CIOs have been exclaiming for years that this job is about transformation, not tin, wires, Wi-Fi, or PowerPoint. However, transformation isn’t always cutting-edge technology, it can be an approach to the problems.

On one cold morning in Leeds we hit upon an idea: we knew that faxed images coming into the trust were becoming a problem for us – receiving a fax meant scanning it into the Electronic Health Record, allowing the system to then use Optical Character Recognise (OCR) for the content. This meant that some of it became searchable, but ultimately we were introducing an information risk for every fax, and we were continuing behaviours that should have been turned off in the late 1980s. The ‘Axe the Fax’ campaign was born out of a need to first and foremost identify where the faxes were and then why they were used.

We created simple animations that could be used in communicating the desire for us to get rid of the fax, created a toolkit for identifying where the faxes were, and a process where parts of the trust could come forward and say: “me first.” We then created a team that could get out and about and into the trust to find the faxes, identify their use, and slowly but surely bring them back to the IT team for safe disposal. As we did this, we documented how we did it, and created an evolving set of case studies and content that other trusts could re-use. Rachel Dunscombe, the CIO at Salford Royal, had presented recently that collaboration was a new competition. This resonated so well with the Axe the Fax campaign in Leeds; if we could do it let’s make sure others could more easily follow suit. Let us build a new way to collaborate.

What was initially sad about this experience though was the lack of interest from our central bodies in taking on the campaign. Leeds offered all the content to the three big central teams to no avail – now we have a truly ‘grassroots’ campaign that our secretary of state was able to latch onto and turn into the digital charge for the future. True collaboration, not competition.

Will ‘Axe the Fax’ lead to purging the paper, ban the bleep, ditch the pager, and other wonderful campaigns? I almost hope not, certainly not as initiatives from the central bodies: what we need, what the NHS needs, is the inspiration to collaborate creatively and share easily, truly blueprinting the third digital revolution as it impacts the site-by-site, ward-by-ward ion of the NHS.

 

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