When you dump technology on people, they will reject it, says Toby Avery, CIO of Surrey and Borders NHS Foundation Trust. Speaking at the recent Healthcare Partnership Network event in Leeds, Toby explained how real digital change is about collaboration and co-design, and making sure clinicians are at the heart of digital delivery.

When it comes to delivering digital change, it is easy for NHS decision-makers to forget who lies at the heart of the improvements they are trying to make. To make the most of evolving technology, we need the clinical workforce to believe in it, to change the workforce culture, and to use it to deliver better care to the community.

But real digital change won’t happen unless people understand both what ‘digital’ is and what it means for them. That is why our mantra is ‘putting people before technology’; let us first understand your experience as a clinician, a carer or a person using our services and establish if technology can help you in your day to day living.

Digital change is about collaboration, co-design and recognition of the fact we are all on a journey towards a different way of working. If we dump technology on people, they will reject it. If they help design it, they will be more inclined to use it.

As I discussed at the Healthcare Partnership Network with Doug Stewart, our CCIO, Surrey and Borders is now taking a multi-layered approach to ensure people from all parts of the organisation are involved in implementing any digital change.

A major step in changing this narrative was the rebranding of our IT departments to ‘Digital’ departments. The changes in language reflect the changes to delivery that span far beyond the confines of the traditional IT world.

Engagement and involvement

A siloed approach to digital change with transformation via an IT suite and no staff input, has in the past resulted in a lack of trust and enthusiasm. Today, the fundamental question to be asked is how can we improve the lives of clinicians, service users, and support staff through digital?

To engage and involve people in the creation of new technology, we appointed our CCIO to take the lead in bringing the digital and clinical worlds closer together. This has involved using a lot of shoe leather to go and meet people in their place of work and discuss how they can become more involved in innovating the delivery of care.

Investing time in the art of conversation has paid real dividend and now, some 18 months or so after we started this journey, we find ourselves being approached by clinicians both within and outside of the organisation wanting to work in ‘digital’. Of the most recent clinical appointments we have employed a nurse as a Head of Clinical Pathways and Electronic Patient Record (EPR) to oversee training and EPR configuration teams.

Unlocking potential

We found that the best way to engage the clinical world is to find enthusiasts. There will always be people in every workforce that are interested in digital and are passionate in driving forward their NHS through technology. The challenge is finding them and unlocking their potential.

This might mean navigating political and financial issues to release their time. It’s also important to be aware that sometimes your digital ambassadors won’t be the people you expect. Speak to people at all levels of the organisation to get a clear picture of where everyone is digitally.

We have a Trust Board that recognises that digital can deliver the transformation our health and services need. As a result, we are working together to make this happen, while recognising we won’t get there overnight.

Continuous improvement

Enabling clinicians to lead the way with digital isn’t a new concept; it’s something that we at Surrey & Borders have been entertaining for some time and we are proud to be one of the earliest organisations to recruit a CCIO full-time. With the recent NHS Long term plan and health secretary Matt Hancock’s renewed focus on digitisation, the government has further supported clinicians leading the digital way by putting some of these ideas in to policy, making it easier for trusts to implement them.

Every step towards our vision is an improvement, and that vision is what matters with every trust. Improving the relationship between clinicians and tech’ is an ongoing journey. As a trust, you won’t have all the answers and you won’t get it all right first time, but it is my belief that if we work in collaboration, with open dialogue between staff, we can deliver and continually improve.

The most recent Healthcare Partnership Network took place on 12th and 13th March 2019 at Oulton Hall in Leeds. The next event is on 16th & 17th July 2019 – register here to book your place.