Pictured: Associate Director for Informatics, Mark Johnson

‘How does the application of digital technology benefit our frontline teams in the delivery of care?“ This is a very important question that is being answered by Mark Johnson, Associate Director of Performance and Informatics.

In the past the priority seemed to be about ‘doing IT’, prioritising the technology rather than how it’s applied.  I saw this frequently during my time as an intensive care, psychiatric and community nurse, before training to be an IT professional. My medical experience gave me insight to realise the importance of IT in a clinical setting.

Today, I’m far from a lone clinical voice in our IT Department; we’re fortunate to have a full time Chief Nursing Information Officer, half-time Clinical Chief Information Officer and four Divisional Clinical Information Leads. The seven of us work together to provide frontline staff with the right technology to do their jobs.

Today, it’s about focusing on clinical care and putting clinicians and clinical outcomes at the centre of the Trust’s information technology systems. One good example is how, as we focus on moving to a single electronic patient record system, we invited 50 Trust clinicians and 50 operational staff to review the shortlisted provider for the £20 million-plus contract. After all, it’s their choice; they are the people who will work on the frontline with the system day in, day out, not the IT department.

New technologies are driving smarter, quicker and more efficient clinical systems.

Put modern, everyday equipment, such as tablets and smartphones, in the hands of frontline staff and see the difference it makes. I’m especially keen to work with our ‘millennials’; younger staff who have lived their whole lives in a connected world surrounded by intuitive, easy-to-use applications and mobile devices. They are the NHS workforce of the future.

The Trust has more than 130 informatics staff all pulling in the same direction, dedicated to making sure we work in unison to deliver the information systems our clinicians need. This was demonstrated by the Trust’s response to this year’s cyber-attack which affected many NHS organisations. Our response was swift and decisive. We had services back up-and-running the same afternoon and replaced 2,500 computers within a matter of days. And despite the challenge and some disruption, we didn’t cancel a single theatre list or outpatient clinic.

In short, we made sure care delivery continued.

Our information systems continue to evolve. Today, we have 24/7 IT support which wasn’t available in the past. We’re rolling out a major programme to provide community staff with access to electronic patient records using secure mobile devices. And we’re working to introduce virtual desktops which follow the clinician. So instead of having to log in to several computers when moving between wards and clinics, a mobile smartcard ensures the information follows the clinician.

While some of this work is ELHT catching up, in certain areas we’re leading the NHS and introducing the very latest systems in the world. In 2018, our clinical staff will be the first in the world to use a new prescribing system from EMIS Healthcare, bringing (and using) the primary care prescription record into the hospital.

Our role is to make IT easy, to make it relevant.

We’ve had plenty of positive feedback. In the main information systems are seen to be more efficient and we have a much better dialogue with people.

Sometimes the benefits and functionality of new technology can be difficult to understand. A good example would be the introduction of secure electronic GP letters which have replaced the need to post approximately 2,000 letters every day which are now added direct to the patient’s primary care electronic health record.

Imagine district nurses driving to their next house call and doctors walking across a ward, with a clear direction and information on how best to help the patients they meet along the way. They will have first class kit and technology to do the job to the best of their ability, with a sense of deep satisfaction. Their integration with other areas of the Trust in real time will be seamlessly, whilst still being able to give the patient the full attention they deserve. This is when we know we have arrived.