‘But she’s my friend!’ – the power of making connections


connections 2A while ago I can remember @PaulJthinks encouraging people to follow me on Twitter as I was a hundred or so followers short of 3000. I now have nearing 8000 and I have been reflecting what that really means to me and how I use my valuable network.

There are a number of people who theorise about networks and connections. Metcalfe’s law is one of these, originating with a theory around Ethernet connections and now sometimes used to describe how number of possible cross-connections in a network grow as the square of the people in the network increases. In other words the community value of a network grows as the square of the number of its users increase.

It all sounds a bit technical to me, and a bit theoretical, but I’ve been reflecting on what my network means to me and how my numbers of followers seems to have grown without any deliberate act on my part to make it happen.

I have always been a connector in groups. In my social life I seem to create social groups and then, as they become impossible to manage socially as separate groups (there are just not enough days in a year), I join groups together. It’s not something I set out to do but I recognise that’s what happens; I am often the unique connection in our social groups – they lived next door, or I worked with them, or their children went to the same child-minder or I used to give them a lift to work.

I don’t set out to behave this way. I don’t set out to collect connections or people or friends it just seems to happen – I love people and I am very extrovert, not in the bouncing loud sort of way, at least all the time, but in the wanting to hear about people and share stories and experiences way. The truth is I am much more reserved than people think but this fascination with people makes me seem very extrovert I suspect (a previous blog covers exactly this here).

people connectingSo why am I thinking about networks and connections now? As I have strengthened my professional network with my social media activity I find I am increasingly focussed on how I can connect people together, that the relationship with me is not the most helpful one but that I can act as a sort of lightening rod to others; connecting wonderful people together. It hasn’t always felt this way but as the strength and depth of my social media network has increased I feel more able to do this – my investment in my relationships seems to have made them deeper and stronger. Again not deliberate act but on reflection that’s is probably what has happened.

When I first noticed this behaviour I did have a moment of anxiety. It’s a bit like when you are at school and your best friend wanders off with another friend that you introduced them to and my instinctive response might have been – ‘but she’s MY friend’.

Interestingly that isn’t what happens now and I’m fascinated by how connecting others to each other seems to step up the power in my network!  I have no idea how I got to 250 followers let alone near 8000 – it just seemed to happen but I do know I definitely feel connected to more great people.

lighteningIn the NHS today it feels more fragmented than ever before. Organisations seem less likely to share than in the past and networks that existed across Strategic Health Authorities for example feel like they have fallen away. I think that if we all behaved as active ‘connectors’ it might just power us up a little bit and we might even find that we become turbo charged if we connect beyond our usual networks; I personally love the fact I have connections in social care, housing, voluntary sector, who work for themselves, who work in the NHS – the list goes on. I don’t know exactly how it happened but I am glad it did and there is nothing more satisfying that making a successful introduction then watching some magic happen! I love my network and seeing it help me to help others through acting as a connector is doubly satisfying – even if there is a little demon on my shoulder saying ‘don’t forget to keep loving me too will you?’

Could you be a better connector? I’m going to keep trying.

The ‘big M’ – more taboo subjects


It’s taken me a while to get my blogging mojo back.

I’ve not been great you see; back in late November I was struggling with staying well – diabetes related – and had a couple of weeks where I am sure most normal people wouldn’t have worked. But I soldiered on. You see for decades that is what I have done. I have, in the Cooper family way, ‘Just got on with it’. What I find, at 51, is that it’s not quite as easy as it used to be.

This has all been coupled with something else that has really been worrying me. I just can’t remember things like I used to.

These two things together gave me a real sense of being out of control. Why did I feel so tired? I mean, so tired I felt like I could sleep anywhere. Why couldn’t I seem to remember one day to the next, let alone what I had promised to do, nor people’s names? Why didn’t I feel on-top of my game??

I finally think I know what is going on (and before someone jumps in and gives me wise advice of course I will be seeing my lovely Dr R in due course)  I think it’s one of those taboo subjects that no one talks about – the Menopause.

After I started to feel a bit better in December I was lucky to go out with my friends, all a similar age to me, from book club, for our pre-Christmas ‘do’. They are all my age contemporaries – a GP, nurse, laboratory scientist, careers advisor, hairdresser and housewife come chef. I love them all. I decided to confess how I was feeling. I am so glad I did.

???????????????????????????We had a feisty conversation about aging and memory, about being tired, not sleeping, hot flushes and cold night sweats. It seems I am not the only one. One of my friends described her memory symptoms so vividly that I immediately started to feel better. There followed a long debate about the pros and cons of HRT. I definitely came away feeling more normal and much, much more optimistic. Since then, having had the conversation, I feel so much better and am actively doing things that help me to feel good. I know that is obvious but sometimes I just don’t do it!

tabooIt led me to think about why on earth no one has ever even broached the subject of the menopause and diabetes. In fact no one ever seems to talk openly about the menopause…. It just seems to be jokey comments and a nod and a wink. Is this another taboo subject? The ‘big M’??

I looked online and of course the ‘big M’ does affect diabetes – it’s obvious. If you search online it says so; the ‘Big M’ can make you hypoglycaemic or maybe hyperglycaemic or maybe just a bit unpredictably dodgy…. And of course if sleep eludes you that has a habit of messing everything up too. If you wake up feeling a bit sweaty then is that hypo sweaty or just a sweaty episode? Well of course you just don’t know without testing and testing and testing. Ah, the ‘big M’!

The other thing I found was that although again we don’t talk much about it, the ‘Big M’ can affect memory and it seems to be well reported by women, even if it never seems to be discussed openly. I found various pieces of information but this is the most insightful – a healthtalk resource where women talk about their experience – worth a look.

menopauseYou need to understand, I don’t do this sort of messing around in my life! I ‘just get on with it’ and I don’t want to think that the ‘big M’ is getting in my way. Information about what is probably happening to me, along with the shared conversation with my lovely friends, made me feel better. I suppose it’s just another thing like Diabetes, a new visitor in my life, the ‘big M’. My experience over the last month just reinforced for me how important open conversations are and the importance of good quality information. I just wish someone had told me about the ‘big M’ before now.

Oh, and I forgot to talk about weight didn’t I?!!? Oh forget that. Lets ignore that!

I feel better now and on top of things again. I really wish these were not conversations that make me feel slightly uncomfortable, after all the ‘big M’ happens to many, many people. Why is it that it feels so taboo?

image

Hen Replacement Therapy HRT – thank you June Girvin :)

anne 25

Who knew? Me 25 years ago :) No ‘big M’ here :D

Standing out or fitting in – matters of dress and heels.


I was rushing about this morning getting ready for work and I reflected that it was much easier when I wore uniform; choices were simpler and there was less need to think.

anne 1989 on wardPutting on my blue sister’s uniform was one of the proudest things I can remember; I never tired of it along with my silver buckle that my husband bought me. If I close my eyes I can put myself back there and feel myself sit up straighter, it really was very special. I liked wearing uniform. I enjoyed the feeling of identity it gave me.

All of this led me to think about the symbolism of dress and where I find myself as a middle aged, rounded sort of person. Clothes inevitably have played an important role in my life for lots of reasons.

heelsI recall in the 1990s progressing to a non-uniformed role for the first time. I was in my mid-twenties and it was after all the 90s, where power dressing was still very much de rigueur. I had shoulder pads, tight pencil skirts, frilly blouses and heels – lots of stiletto heels. When I walked through Leeds tonight on my way home the fashions of 2014 have some of those echoes – it made me smile. It’s interesting when life places you on the second time around – I just wish I had saved some of my best clothes from back then.

[An interesting note – when I looked for pictures of me in the 1990s I can find none. My son was born in 1990 and all I can find are dozens of pictures of him. I guess something changed in my priorities then!]

Interviews have always been a time for me where I almost get superstitious about what I wear; always new clothes and silly as it may sound best underwear. I had a friend who always wore red knickers for interviews. I guess in these types of situations we all want to stack as many of the cards in our favour as we can.

New jobs too, demand a close focus on the way I dress. Who do I want them to think I am? Feisty Annie in my slightly hippy tastes or a more serious moderate Annie? What I do know it this situation also demands some new clothes although in some ways this is just like the emperor’s new clothes – I’m just waiting for someone to find me out!

Today I am lucky that I get to visit many different areas of the healthcare system and find myself moving in and out of different organisational cultures but I notice patterns. In big acute trusts it still feels like there is a sort of power dressing going on, albeit the 2014 version. Contrast this with community and mental health services where the styles feel more relaxed and individualistic. I always think, now where am I off to, and which version of Annie do I need to wear today?

Annie at 50th Birthday Bash

Annie at 50th Birthday Bash

Being on platforms and speaking raises interesting issues – mainly those of heels. My lovely ex-boss and now friend tells me that I should always wear heels. I try, I really do, but I can no longer do it. I find myself choosing more moderate heels and go for colour and class rather than the stilettos of the past. It’s also part of the lot of someone with type 1 diabetes I think that a focus on removing the risk of sore feet somehow feels more important.

Informatics is a really interesting place to work; male dominated and lots of suits and yes, mainly grey ones. We do have the occasional GP floating around who has a slightly more relaxed mode of dress. What is a girl to do in this space? I go for ‘middle of the road’ and then, sometimes, in the evenings or for events, dress up in colours and sparkles, like a peacock. I think it disconcerts them occasionally and I like that!

peapodSo what does all of this mean? Conversations of late have been making me reflect on why I always seem to choose roles that are a bit unusual. I do it because I like it. But then why do I seek to conform with my dress and shoes? I think it’s probably part of what can be referred to as cultural capital – assets that lead to social mobility. I need to fit in to be taken seriously and dress may be part of how I do this. Do I give up my identity as a result? I’m not sure. I think I express my identity in different ways – a business like suit with my tiny pea-pod necklace or a beautiful scarf.

My reflections are leading me to take a look again at how I present myself – am I expressing myself in the way I want to? Are you?

belt and badges

Big Data – Orwell or Huxley


Big data is an all-encompassing term for any collection of data sets so large and complex that it becomes difficult to process using traditional data processing applications. The challenges include analysis, capture, curation, search, sharing, storage, transfer, visualization, and privacy violations.

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_data

big dataIn my world it seems like everyone is talking about big data but when I move out of my specialist world and into the more ‘normal’ NHS front-line, and rub shoulders with nurses and other health care professionals, it doesn’t seem to have entered their world at all. But in truth big data is everything about their world – in future it could have a profound effect on care and everyone will have a role to play.

What is it?

Big data is really just lots and lots of data, from different places, that is mashed together and then analysed. It has become increasingly possible to understand data as more sophisticated computing power has come along. Modern computing power allows us to analyse what would have seemed impossible in the past. Now we can also store volumes of data that would have seemed impossible not so many years ago. We can now analyse data that is less well structured and still make it meaningful, especially by spotting patterns and trends that can then lead us to more detailed analysis.

I liken it to those fancy scanners they use on ‘time team’. The scanners give you clues what might have been underground but actually until you do the digging you may not be able to make real sense of it. Like the scanners big data can help you to see interesting patterns but often it needs much closer scrutiny – it takes a bit of digging to really understand. But if you couldn’t do the scanning you would never know there was anything interesting underground. Big data allows you to create new hypotheses and spot new relationships in care and treatments.

Of course big data isn’t just used in healthcare, it can be used in so many areas of life. Commercial companies are keen to tap into it to give them an edge to understand, for example, our purchasing behaviours; sports men and women can use it to improve performance; and we can use it in education to better understand how we develop and learn new skills. In all these areas it has the potential to transform and make a real difference.  In fact it has potential in so many areas of our lives.

Why does it matter?

science dataIn healthcare it matters because the data may have the clues to many disease processes that in the past have eluded our understanding. I have had type 1 Diabetes for nearly 35 years and in truth it feels like there has been very little progress in our understanding of the ‘why’ of Diabetes. Yes, treatments have improved but it often feels like a crude guessing game – and I apologise for that statement to all the wonderful scientists working in the field but I think big data might help them to get to the point more quickly.

The very precious nature of healthcare data

Of course any debate about access and storage of healthcare data is rightly heated and contested. Data about your health is one of the most personal aspects of your life and most people have a view about what it can be used for and who should have access to it. I agree that I should have some control but I really do want someone to find a cure for Diabetes. If I thought gifting my data, with some controls for privacy, would help to stop another young person at 16, as I was, finding out they had to face a lifetime of Diabetes I would do it gladly and willingly. Yet the debate about privacy and confidentiality continues to rage in the public domain.  We need to get this right – no excuses and no easy options; protecting the rights of individuals goes without saying.

If you are interested in what people who have chronic conditions want to use their data for then ‘Patients Like Me’ is a great case study to look at. I know that the data belongs to those individuals and they have the right to do with it what they will.  I do not want this post to be hi-jacked by the issue of privacy or confidentiality, nor am I saying it doesn’t matter – I just believe there are also other considerations to think about.

http://www.technologyreview.com/view/526266/patientslikeme-gives-genentech-full-access/

Data quality and responsibility

For practitioners big data does have an impact. Not only has it got the potential to transform how we deliver care in the future but practitioners have a responsibility to ensure the data they collect is high quality. In the past many records were rarely reviewed and languished for decades in medical records libraries in the bowels of hospitals. Now, and in the future, information we record will have a different visibility and transparency and we would do well to remember this.

Skills we will need

So the brave new world demands that we also have new skills. Being data savvy will, I believe, become a basic skill expected of people who work in the system and will go beyond simple statistics and the ability to use spread-sheets. We need skilled specialists too, people who can really help us to get to the nub of the data meaning.

Moving from knowledge to wisdom

owl wiseBut the most important addition we will all make to the big data debate is that of providing the context. Moving from knowing facts to a possessing wisdom requires us to throw upon the debate the light of truth and add our tacit knowledge and experience. It is people who provide this context, the insights and the meaning, turning facts into knowledge and then applying this to achieve greater wisdom; an endeavour we should all be contributing to. Here I mean ‘everyone’ – I don’t mean just people who work in systems, I mean just that: ‘everyone’. It is only if we have this whole context will we really be able to take the meaning from the data and take the steps we need to real wisdom.

Watch this TedTalk by Susan Etlinger to understand why big data is a journey we should all be engaged with. The title of my blog relates directly to her brilliant talk:

Conundrums (the ups and downs of diabetes)


Woman aloneHave been working on my diabetes control this week – hard, harder than usual and it got me thinking about choices, dilemmas and conundrums.

If I eat in the evening at 6 or before, I get better control at night – but no one wants to go out for dinner at 5

If I eat healthily I am better controlled – but no one likes to be watched eating pudding alone

If I walk too far my feet burn – but everyone thinks I’m putting it on

I love latte coffee but it’s less good for me – Americano sucks

Being tightly controlled means more hypoglycaemic episodes – means I put on weight

When people are kind to me about having diabetes, I’m horrible and I hate it – what’s wrong with me?? I think I just want to be like everyone else

Diabetes BG testingI can’t be bothered to hide my insulin pump any more (getting too old to be bothered) – but then people stare

If I get on with my life and forget about Diabetes – it always comes back and bites me on the bum

My lovely son had a coarctation of the aorta when he was a baby and had to have surgery – I will never know if it was my fault = #guilt

My biggest fear is losing my sight, not being able to read my beloved books – but I take solace in knowing I would be able to listen to Radio 4 and the Archers

Diet coke is officially the most boring soft drink in the world – but often the only one served in bars (and then you are advised to check as they often give you full fat!)

I couldn’t join the Queen Alexandra’s Royal Army Nursing Corps because of my diabetes – but it didn’t matter in the end

Having a bad hypo during the day is awful but at night is even worse – thank god my pump has made this better

There is no such thing as a day off – but having a ‘kinder-to-self’ day is possible

I hate repeat prescriptions they are the bane of my life – second only to finger pricking

I am never going to run a marathon – but I never was a runner

When I’m going hypo my brain is working so hard to tell me to eat that I often overeat. It’s hard sticking to 15 grams of carbohydrate which is what is recommended

No one ever really celebrates a good day – as there are so many days to do!

I am very organised; planning is critical – but even then I forget stuff!

Diabetes isn’t static so you think you have worked it out then something changes – another ‘what the bloody hell’ moment!

But do you know Diabetes also contributes to who I am and some of who I am is not so bad.

Best friends at the seaside

Storytelling, tacit knowledge and a leadership Indaba


“If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten.”

Rudyard Kipling

Stories matter; everyone seems to be taking on board storytelling – is it a fashion, a fad?

Storytelling bookHuman beings have been telling stories, transferring knowledge, values and history through hundreds of years and generations of tribes. Attention seems to be turning back to our delight in oral histories and stories. Even in electronic forms we see videos and read wonderful blogs that continue the ancient tradition of storytelling through generations, transferring some of our oral traditions to new digital media. It makes me glad – I enjoy stories and they make me laugh and sometimes cry – and I have learnt so much from these stories – they expand my mind.

My personal experiences tell me that stories are a powerful way for me to share my stories, find meaning and knowledge in what I know, that they have a power that charts and sterile traditional business words sometimes miss. My blog has become a place where I try to share stories and in doing so try to unearth some of my tacit knowledge that I wonder if has any value in the world. My stories and reflections are part of my endeavour to share and to move from ‘stuff that is in my head’ to sense making, making it social, transferring and transforming thoughts to a deeper understanding.

Tacit knowledge is deeply personal and hard to extract and measure. It flies in the face of much scientific study and is known to be hard to draw out and share. The spoken and written word, gestures and emotions are in my view part of its transfer and the recipient of it needs to be able to listen, watch and actively participate in the story to sense-make, participate and share.

It is also my view that it is a social activity for many, but perhaps not all; marrying together story tellers and listeners in networks creates a more fertile space for the development of concepts, ideas and taps into our imagination to assess possibilities and create new ‘castles in the air’. I understand that scientific enquiry is vital in our world but I believe that stories allow us to share and interpret experiences in a way that complements our more logical and scientific understanding.

This week I attended a Leadership Indaba.

Indaba is a South African word, with its origins meaning ‘gathering’ or ‘meeting’. More recently they are styled as conferences where there is space for creative thinking and where story telling is likely to have a strong role.

So this week a group of people with an interest in leadership gathered in Leeds as part of an Indaba organised by Centre for Innovation in Health Management in Leeds. The Indaba has an international flavour with colleagues from South Africa and the Netherlands – a great opportunity for story-telling across different cultures and experiences, a chance to collide our experiences and stories together in a way that creates new meaning informed by the people in the groups.

Everyone has a storySo, I went to the day thinking I knew nothing, I knew no theories, and that I may not be able to participate – that I might not be up to the task (Imposter syndrome at its most active). But Indabas are not styled that way…. Story-telling is what I think they are about. I came away bursting with stories and new ideas taken and processed alongside stories from others. It was a social activity, sharing stories, processing meaning and this was just the very first day we had met. I know not everyone was comfortable with the unstructured social nature of the day but I found it liberating. Telling stories links us to emotions that create new ways of thinking and behaving; maybe a creative way to find new and different solutions to complex problems?

So what happened at the Indaba? Storytelling started the process of weaving us together and started us on a new journey. For me it was, and remains, exciting; the chance to hear others talk about their experiences and to weave those stories through mine to create new understanding and meaning. Its early days, we are still building trust and confidence and we also need to work out how we share this learning more widely – I will blog more as our journey unfolds.

Finally, I think that there is a risk in having a single internal story. In this wonderful Tedtalk by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie she explains about the danger of a single story. If you don’t think that storytelling and sharing is important watch the video – it may just change your mind.

I’ll show you mine, if you show me yours


Many years ago I learnt a very hard lesson. It’s about good intentions but still getting it wrong. We all like to think that our contribution to care is visible and valued by others but do we really take the time to understand the perspective of others who support patients and just as importantly what putting the patient at the centre really means?

NHS Direct

Three of these nurses worked at the site I did! It was a long time ago now!

My lesson is from the time when I worked at NHS Direct. It was a fantastic time we were breaking new boundaries and doing things across the country that hadn’t been done before. We were proud of our nursing assessment process. I was responsible for the technical system we used; not the algorithms, but the system functionality, that is how it works. We regularly referred callers to speak to or see the doctor in out of hours care. We were one of the first sites to integrate these services and we had a great relationship with the clinical leaders in that organisation. Providing seamless care was our aim across both organisations.

I was trying to develop a system whereby in our electronic referral to the doctor we included information about our assessment. The options were limited. We held a history of the full triage, all the questions asked and all the yes and no responses. Of course for a complex assessment this could be many many questions and as far as the nurses were concerned all of those questions were important, they all added weight to their referral. They were proud that they had done a comprehensive assessment, and wanted the doctors to see what they had done.

The doctors decided they didn’t want it- a stand off!

A difficult challenge to us at NHS Direct! I held firm. Surely they needed to understand why we had made the referral?

This went on for a while. We didn’t understand why they were so resistant, how could they refuse clinical information about someone we thought was ill enough for them to need to see them! Finally, in my wisdom, I decided I needed to find out more and persuaded one of the doctors to let me spend some time with them on a night shift. Arguably I should have done this earlier but, as you know, we all live and learn!

In the car in out of hours, in those days, the doctors were receiving referrals from the nurses directly and they only way they could view the referral was to print it off on a tiny portable printer. The doctor showed me what happened if he printed it off – ittoilet roll rolled out like an out of control Andrex* toilet roll….. Clearly not the communication that the nurses or I expected.

I learnt lots of things from this experience; a reminder of the need to listen, that we were not always the most important, that being proud can get in the way sometimes but most of all to stay focused on patients and their families. Fortunately I was able to put it right and improve what we did. We created a system where the nurses could create a short summary to transfer to the doctor; a better solution all round.

I think the lessons that I learnt then may be useful today too……

It is true to say that I really do feel that informatics is finally here to stay. Every meeting I attend everyone is talking about how important it is that everyone can see information about patients/citizens wherever they access services, that we need to reduce duplication and that this will contribute to a better patient experience. Sharing information is discussed as a fundamental enabler for service transformation. Excellent! I at least don’t have to have that debate any more.16571920_s

But then, I am rightly challenged on why do we have to ask for this now, why isn’t it here already? Surely if banking can do it we can? And so it goes on. I have worked with some of the most brilliant technical folk, they are so clever and awesome and I feel so lucky. They tell me that technically what we need, as an enabler for service transformation, can be delivered – so what’s stopping us besides money?

I am starting to wonder if the problem is similar to the one I faced at NHS Direct.

Everyone thinks that their part of any ‘record’ system is the most important, as did those nurses. There are many many conversations that loop round and round about standardisation of records, terms, datasets and about sharing agreements. But no one ever gives anything up. Equally the information governance debates centre on why not, rather than how can we, scaring the living daylights out of staff. And round we go. Although it’s never personal and it’s generally lovely people (most people in informatics are lovely :) )the conversations loop round and round like a merry go round. I think we circle focused on our records and our contribution to care, as we did back at NHS Direct, rather than looking at the whole system and from the patients viewpoint.

I’ve started to wonder if, like I did at NHS Direct, we are looking at it from the wrong perspective. I think what many clinicians mean when they say a patient centred record is ‘my view of a patient centred record’. What’s more, I think portals, the current trend, is merely each group agreeing to share ‘my patient centred record’. Better than not sharing at all but perhaps an ‘I’ll show you mine, if you show me yours’ approach that doesn’t really focus on the patient at all. I’m not so naive as to think that we don’t need some specialty systems – intensive care is intensive care – but I still think we might have got some of the principles wrong!Sharing It leaves me wondering if informatics needs to embrace co-production in its fullest sense; that is getting patients/citizens to describe what they mean by a patient centred record in collaboration with the people who provide care and services and those clever IT folk. Once we start this conversation then perhaps we need to accept that we have to find a way towards this goal in a way that puts aside our existing professional and organisational perspectives. It may be that it’s simpler than we think? Perhaps it throws away the concept of organisational records? Maybe that’s too hard but worth thinking about surely? If we muster all our brains and hearts along with patients perhaps we could co-create a new picture of the future?

Is informatics ready for such radical approaches? So why is it that we haven’t already embraced them? I’m not sure but I suspect it’s cultural and a difficult one to crack! Informatics is more about analytical approaches and logic and not quite so often about hearts and minds. The nearest I have seen is the development of hack days but these tend to retain control in the technical domain.

But as I learnt a long time ago listening and truly hearing are key to better solutions and I wait optimistically for the conversations to change.

*other toilet roll brands are available