How to develop a more digitally literate NHS workforce

At HETT 2019 Ian Bolland sat down with Patrick Mitchell, director of innovation and transformation at Health Education England as they discussed the changes that are needed to see a more digitally literate workforce within the NHS.

Mitchell worked on the Topol Review as part of the review board and feels that NHS boards need to be more and more aware of the digital agenda, and is of the view the health service currently has a paternalistic relationship with the digital technology.

“If you look at how we as British citizens have changed our relationship with banking, retail, travel and the like, our psyche has changed. Our relationship has changed with those industries. With the NHS it has not.

“When I talked to a colleague in the pharma industry, he points out you would never become a board director unless you were digitally literate, and understand what the agenda was across the whole competency framework for digital literacy.

“We’ve got a whole heap of people coming out of university who are digitally literate from an education perspective, from a social perspective, but are not digitally literate from a work perspective; and they arrive in a work environment that’s not digitally enabled or equipped.”

Though some may suggest that funding is an issue when it comes to equipping the workforce properly for the digital age, Mitchell feels that getting priorities right within the health service is a key element to increasing digital literacy within the NHS workforce.

“If we get it right in terms of digital investment then you’re more likely to find out where the redundancy in the system is, streamline pathways, and reduce the variants where money is tied up unnecessarily.

“You need to know which levers to pull, or not to pull, to get it right and at the top you need a digitally literate board that understands those levers. It may be investment in EPR. It may be investment in voice recognition that brings about the change first that allows you to release money to allow the investment into EPR. It’s about choice and balance.”

Mitchell feels that the graduates coming into the health workforce need more exposure to digital in a work environment. Despite growing up in an age of iPhones and social media, in a workplace setting the younger elements of the workforce may not be at the standard of digital literacy required.

What does he feel is holding the workforce back from becoming more digitally literate? He puts most of it down to culture and change management.

“The staff are looking for simpler ways in which they can communicate with one another. Until you’ve got boards addressing that and understanding what’s allowable and not allowable that’s very hard to do.”

As a result, Mitchell describes the digital agenda as a team game where clinicians need to work with tech people – and that there needs to be more engagement at board level. It’s not all bad news, though, as Mitchell does highlight there is some progress being made by some institutions.

“There are a range of organisations across the country that are probably more advanced than others. You’ve probably got the exemplars already showing in terms of the investment they’ve made and where they’re going with this agenda. They’re clearly showing what works and what doesn’t work.

“There’s a whole heap of other organisations that have got to follow. I would argue that the sooner we get into this, the sooner we can start using the digital agenda to get things that are not needed to be done by clinicians being done by kit.”




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