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A new approach to health and care informatics

Published 03 May 2017

It’s not every day that you can say that you’re starting something that will change peoples’ lives for the better – however, for me, today is one such day, writes BCS’ David Evans


Today, Wednesday May 3, is a big day for me.

Today, I’m part of something that we hope will turn in to a movement, that will affect all of us as it changes how health and care operates.

This is a movement driven by passion, fuelled by values and underpinned by a belief that things can only get better - if we, the individuals involved, stand together. We’re aiming to bring together and inspire the professionals who can harness information and technology. And, importantly, who have the integrity to put people and their communities first.

We know that the only way we can improve the health and care of our families, friends, the communities we live in, is by better use of information and technology. What’s not well understood is what’s necessary to unlock those benefits; how deep the changes are required to organisational structures and professional practice if they are to result in simple things that work for real people.

Bob Wachter, a highly-respected US physician, led last year’s review of NHS IT in England that clearly outlined what we probably all knew; health and care are better delivered by multi-disciplinary teams centring care on the patient, irrespective of any internal barriers.

He said: “Many observers and stakeholders mistakenly believed that implementing health IT would be a simple matter of technical change – a straightforward process of following a recipe or a checklist. In fact, implementing health IT is one of the most complex adaptive changes in the history of healthcare, and perhaps of any industry.”

The diagnosis is that unless we can help the various professional disciplines involved in this adaptive change come together and organise themselves around real people, we will fail.

Across the UK – and this is not just about England – heroic professionals manage to break down barriers and deliver fantastic projects that make a difference. Yet it should be an every day activity, the results of which are understood and replicated widely. It should not need a hero to champion improvements that make a difference to what we all care about.

The medicine that’s indicated to cure us of this systemic lack of efficacy is to re-connect us explicitly to the values and goals that we all share. People working in health and care informatics (or information science and management, IT, or digital) want to see their work lead to good things for real people. That’s why many join the profession, and why many more want to stay. Yet that desire can perversely be disconnected from our professional culture.

Instead, those shared values and goals are something we can build on. The movement has a campaign behind it – Well Connected: Informatics Professionals for better wellbeing. To take ownership of this campaign, all that is required is to state your beliefs and pledge to turn those beliefs into actions. By stating those beliefs and ‘wearing the badge’ we signal to each other that we want to do the right thing. By aligning ourselves across health and care informatics, we remove excuses and create opportunities. It’s also a clear statement that along with clinical professionals we take responsibility for the impact of what we do.

Behind this, is a federation of informatics professional bodies. This includes BCS and CILIP – Chartered bodies that connect professionals across disciplines in many sectors and around the globe, but for whom health and care is very important. It includes SOCITM who have great strength in local government and across the public sector. It includes IHRIM, who support records managers in health and care, an incredibly important and under-recognised part of the NHS workforce. Alongside this federation that is focused on non-clinical professionals is a new Faculty of Clinical Informatics that is focused on clinically-registered colleagues (such as pharmacists, nurses and doctors). Together, and supported by NHS national organisations and the informatics leadership, this is the chance of a generation to change our culture and practice, and come together for the betterment of our society.

So it’s great to be able to say as a Director at BCS that we’re completely behind this professional community. It’s even better to say that as the Chair of this federation and in partnership with the Faculty of Clinical Informatics, that we’re all behind these professional communities and this mission.

The response we’re calling for is that those in health and care informatics sign up and get involved. That means getting involved in the community that will develop and share good practice, and turn that into standards and professional development that everyone benefits from. That means getting out of the team and talking to other professions on the basis of declared values and shared goals. It means standing for patients, for citizens, for communities, and taking responsibility for what matters most: people.

This is not the end of anything, but the start of an opportunity – for these professionals to form a community and start a movement. My work is not entirely done, but what matters now is that the opportunity is created and it’s hear for those in health and care informatics to take and make real. Knowing the leaders in that community, this is what they’ve been waiting for, and they won’t miss it.

David Evans is the director of community & policy at BCS, the Chartered Institute for IT.

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