Speaking the Right Language – a Triple Aim for Health Informatics

technology future

During some of the most exciting (so far 😉) times in my career I have been working on doing new things, creating new solutions and developing new approaches – setting up a new complaints service, being part of a team developing a new NHS Direct site and developing the national Summary Care Record.  I might reflect that some of these were not as successful as I might have wanted, but they were all exciting projects to be part of.  What drove me, in all those projects, was the opportunity to try to make something better, to deliver better care, to find new ways to help people get information, to make information more accessible, so that it improved outcomes – laudable goals.

At the time of these projects we didn’t really talk about digital, nor digital transformation.  We were just focussed on trying to solve a problem and technology happened to be part of solution.  More recently there seems to be a whole new language developing focusing on digital transformation – for me this is missing the point.

I have long thought that the annex that is the informatics department would do well to move nearer to the point of care and be part of it, rather than a separate, specialist environment.  Instead the informatics world has developed its own language which is impenetrable unless you have a qualification in computer science or similar.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to dumb down health informatics, but I think those specialists would do well to get closer to the language of health care delivery.

What could ‘digital transformation’ be called?

The specialists in informatics might do well to use the language of safety; patient safety   is the avoidance of unintended or unexpected harm to people during the provision of health care. Care providers would recognise this language and understand the intent.  It is generally what informatics specialists are aiming at too.

coding code program compute coder develop developer development

For me the language of improvement is a way of connecting to health and care staff who are not specialists.  Improving quality is now well recognised as key for high performing NHS organisations.

If Digital Transformation was described as projects that aimed to improve quality and the language of quality improvements used, I feel sure it would resonate more clearly with staff and service users.

As someone who likes frameworks, I developed and used a variation of the IHI Triple Aim when I thought about what we were trying to achieve, in any project.

Digital projects should always be focused on:

  • improving outcomes,

  • creating efficiencies, and;

  • improving the experience of both staff and/or service users.

Projects should be able to show how they improved all the areas of my adapted triple aim.

We need to stop talking about digital transformation as an thing in its own right and use language that resonates with staff who are working at the point of care.  I recommend the language and aims of quality or service improvement.

I know that’s what we all want, but we need to get our lexicon right.  Surely we all just want to make things better?


Make things better


3 thoughts on “Speaking the Right Language – a Triple Aim for Health Informatics

  1. Spot on Anne. I frequently find myself checking my own motivations thinking I might have missed something profound and new – bigger than what I might come up with – to explain why I’m so determined in my role. I land in the same spot as you have so eloquently noted here despite my curiosity.

  2. You’ve summed things up so well Anne. I don’t think it’s just the ‘Digital Transformation’ world that’s guilty of this in the NHS but I do think it’s one of the prime reasons progress has been so slow.
    I keep trying to follow your Top tips in our Building a Digital Ready Workforce Leadership work but sadly frequently failing due largely to my own lack of confidence and not wanting to be seen to be out of tribe. Thanks for writing such an excellent prompt for me to try harder

  3. Spot on and succinct analysis of the problem we have created by putting a powerful tool in a separate silo from the problems that the tool could be applied to solve. Is it possible to bring the two together without having an organisational structure that brings people into a single team? And is that possible without leaders who can relate to both sides of the coin? So where is the support or structure within the NHS or, indeed other organisations to bring together those with the problems and those with the solutions under open-minded leadership? I recently attended a week long event in Austria where translational research for digital health that meets social needs (bringing together academics of different dicsiplines, clinicians, users of health services) is currently being set up. Do we have such a thing in the UK?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s