The National Health Service (NHS) has always been committed to universal healthcare, irrespective of age, health, race, social status, or ability to pay.  Those values have not changed since its inception in 1948, but the world has. The whole of the healthcare sector and in particular the NHS must adapt to take advantage of exponential technology change.  Today that change manifests itself in digital transformation.  Successful technology can turn an ugly duckling into a beautiful swan but poor execution can leave you with a very expensive, very fast ugly duckling. It’s a problem that NHS Digital Academy CEO, Rachel Dunscombe, is only too aware of. “Technology is the only option for the NHS to make significant gains in productivity and safety,” she says.  “All other avenues will give marginal gains but not the major impact on our health and care system needs.”

Over the years, healthcare has seen as wide a divide between ‘IT’ and ‘the business’ as any vertical you care to name. Evidence from healthcare organisations often points to a lack of appreciation of each other’s issues at all levels so the solution needs to be top down.  Whether by Government-imposed constraints or lack of knowledge, the failure to leverage talent from outside the sector has led to many good ideas falling on stony ground and consequently failing to blossom.  It’s that very reason that the NHS Digital Academy was born.  The NHS Digital Academy is a virtual organisation set up to develop a new generation of healthcare digital leaders who can drive the information and technology transformation of the NHS.  The NHS Digital Academy, through a partnership with Imperial College London, the University of Edinburgh, and Harvard Medical School, provides a year-long fully accredited learning programme (Post Graduate Diploma in Digital Health Leadership) for digital change leaders.

Dunscombe is keen to link the success of technology with those driving change: “Leadership is essential in this space as digital is the platform for reimagining how we deliver health and removing geographical constraints and changing the skills mixes we need. This journey needs people who can tell the story of how we will revolutionise the way we work. This will have an impact for almost all the NHS workforce and so strong leadership who can build trust and seek win-win situations are essential to the momentum. Traditionally in healthcare, the gap between technology and delivery has been wide – the best leaders are now bridging this gap – getting everyone pulling on the same end of the rope for positive change.”

To futureproof itself our healthcare sector needs to move away from just throwing technology at problems and hoping for the best.  It needs to be supported by cultural change to embrace the potential of AI, Cloud and digital whilst retaining focus on patient outcomes.  Healthcare could learn much from practices such as DevOps, Agile and ITIL 4 where the co-creation of value through collaboration of all stakeholders is at the heart of what is delivered.  That means leveraging the best solution through collaboration between patients, healthcare technology organisations and clinicians.  It is encouraging to note that a significant percentage of the NHS Digital Academy cohorts 1 and 2 are from clinical and non-IT backgrounds.  The CIO of the future must not be blinded by the dazzle of new technology, but rather apply technology solutions to healthcare in ways that co-create value for all stakeholders.

Stakeholder expectations are shifting and the healthcare sector is no exception.  Be it the surgeon reviewing new techniques through YouTube, cancer research using AI or the patient checking into the surgery on a touchscreen, expectations of new technology are sky high. Can healthcare keep up?  If it is to succeed it must overcome four key challenges related to legacy systems.  Healthcare CIOs must not let this “Legacy Backlog” stifle innovation.  The four challenges are: –

  • Switching to the cloud – choosing the right architecture to bring together what is often a patchwork quilt of diverse systems
  • Failure to execute – there is a marked difference between being alerted to the value of technology and realising that value
  • Choosing the wrong AI or RPA projects – it is easy to be dazzled by the bright lights of technology at the expense of value in areas like patient outcomes
  • Swamped in data – the sheer volume of data provided by modern tools and medical techniques needs to be structured and utilised

The keys to making technology work are building organisations that focus on value, speed, and agility.  Every healthcare provider must be led by people who understand and can execute this.  This is where the NHS Digital Academy is trying to augment the abilities of those leading change.  Dunscombe is passionate about this adding “The biggest capability gap in the NHS is leaders who can work with and at Board level to fast track the opportunities digital can bring. Through the Academy, we are slowly getting to the new world with digital and technology leads on boards.”  With the right people in place, Twenty First Century technology solutions in healthcare should see the beautiful swans emerge.