In the meantime, though, we thought we’d share some of our early findings based on the experiences of two of our case studies: Liverpool Clinical Commissioning Group, responsible for NHS services across the city which is implementing a shared patient record amongst other technology developments, and Essex University Partnership Trust, a community and mental health provider covering one of the largest geographic areas of any single trust. Liverpool’s project aims to improve the health of its residents through the use of technology; Essex University Partnership Trust has been using digital technology to change the way it delivers services to its patients. Both areas are pursuing similar projects, such as providing access to online materials, using electronic records and giving staff the ability to access their office facilities through mobile working.
We visited these organisations late last year and spoke to the people driving through change at all levels. There was agreement about the benefits of technology, as well as the factors that help or hinder efforts to implement it. The most consistent message was that clinical engagement was important throughout any change process, but in particular where some people feel more uncertain about what the coming change means for their work, as they might with digital technology.
What does ‘clinical engagement’ mean in practice though? Interviewees in both Essex and Liverpool emphasised the importance of peer-to-peer communication and clinical leadership, as well as allowing the people working at the front line to design the service they would be using:
It isn’t just clinicians who need to ‘buy in’ to digital change programmes, however. Several people emphasised the importance of support and belief at board level, which allowed project leads to keep their organisation’s senior management up to date but also reinforced the importance of the projects to other staff:
None of our interviewees found digital change easy; they shared important lessons to help others avoid the same difficulties they ran into, which we’ll present fully in the final report. A common thread across many of the provider organisations was the difficulty in resourcing a project in terms of both the technical support needed and ongoing training:
But what of the benefits of implementing digital technology? The main benefits seen in Liverpool and Essex have been in improved patient safety resulting from better information:
The keys to success in digital projects seem to be: the quality and level of clinical engagement and involvement in project and system design; the belief in your work and involvement at board level; resourcing your support and training correctly.
This is a small sample of the data we’ve collected and the themes and issues we’ve identified. Our full report will bring in information from three more case study sites and dozens more interviews. I hope it will be useful to all those looking to make the best use of digital technology in the NHS.