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Blog: peer support helps change happen in health and care IT

Jane_at_ELS_cropped_(1)By Jane Dwelly, Director of Strategy, HIMSS UK

Recently, the HIMSS Europe Annual Survey gauged the mood and outlook of Health and Care IT professionals. There was broad agreement on the benefits of IT in the NHS, which shows we are at least all on the same page. However, in the UK the statistic that leapt out was that 77% rated opportunities to learn and share best practice with other organisations as poor, underutilised or average.

In other words: staff feel isolated. This should concern everyone, and especially leaders in their home organisations. This cadre of professionals working in health and care is being asked to take the IT out of the IT department and make it work for patients and staff. Matthew Swindells, NHS England’s National Director for Operations and Information, told the King’s Fund that IT in the NHS was fragmented; ‘we’re tiny little apps and spreadsheets being moved around – by hand’. He compared this to banking in the 1950s before it became digitised. ‘Move this on’ he said and create ‘more time for care and treatment’. For IT health professionals this means doing brave and daring things in the name of the digital revolution - while carrying on with the day job. Double-running to bring about the IT changes that will improve patient care and save money. It’s a big ask.

In circumstances like these, cross-organisation peer support is vital. Sharing useful tools, case studies and hacks give people the wherewithal to do this difficult stuff, and crucially – prove it can be done. This is one of the principles of being a Global Digital Exemplar hospital site: leading by example and taking other organisations – and staff - with you.

Knowing you’re not alone in a particular struggle is a powerful incentive to carry on when the going gets tough. At conferences and events delegates start conversations and soon bond over a common dilemma or hard-to-reach dream and from this stems a sense of belonging. This is why people go to events like UK e-Health Week and Executive Leadership Summit: to network, learn, listen and belong.

In 2017 we’ll see more support for healthcare IT professionals. The Digital Academy will offer online training and the Digital Delivery Board – a cross-system group - will offer direction as it drives the implementation of national technology policy. In a webinar last month it’s chair Professor Keith McNeil, the NHS Chief Clinical Information Officer, told healthcare IT professionals to ‘proceed until apprehended’. Good advice, and hopefully a recommendation that will see people making the change that will use IT to transform patient care.