Are you digitally ready?

The essence of the session I presented at #NIPEC18 today

Are you digitally ready?  I am hoping I am!

Maybe you are expecting a technical presentation; this is not that.  That’s because I actually believe that this whole agenda is about people.  Its not about a list of technical capabilities – its about how people respond to technology and its about everyone in this room, so how do you know if you are digitally ready?

First of all, for context, I would like to reflect back.

Its 1983 and I am a fresh faced student nurse. Much of the technology we have now didn’t even seem possible then.  We had no mobile phones and as a patient I was boiling my insulin syringe in a pan in the kitchen.

Over the decades since then I have assimilated technology into both my professional and my personal life, as I am sure you have too.

I have had no training in any of these things but I bank online, I order my meds online, I look loads up on google, I have an insulin pump and a Continuous Glucose Monitor.  I love the connections I gain on social media and I use this in both my social and professional life.

I feel I am digitally ready in many senses.

But what is it exactly that makes me so?

Here are the 5 characteristics that I think make me digitally ready:

The first is that I am change positive; that is I have a positive professional orientation towards change, seeing it as an opportunity rather than something to be avoided.  I like doing novel things.  I was the first complaints manager at our Trust, I was part of the team that set up NHS Direct, a nurse led telephone triage service and I think was one of the early nurses to work in an informatics role.  I experiment (safely of course) all the time, like I am experimenting today with you, presenting without slides.  You will have to let me know how it goes!

For me being change ready means exactly that, prepared to try new things, experiment and play.

I believe that all nurses need to be change positive as nursing as its taught today is unlikely to be the nursing of the future.  The pace of change is ramping up and technology is a large part of that, for example genomics and personalised medicine is likely to be come a reality in my lifetime.

I have already seen significant professional change. I used to be a staff nurse on a cadiology ward.  The only way we could do surgery on someone’s lungs was a large incision in someone’s chest.  It took days for them to recover.  It was painful. Now, today they can do this type of surgery using keyhole surgery. Think of the massive difference it makes.  It improves recovery but just think about the changes it makes to caring for these people!  It shifts the focus for nursing too.  And I predict it will be robotics next.

Being change ready is a good life skill as well as a professional skill too!

The second trait is Curiosity, when I mentor people I always advise them to remain curious.

Curiosity drives progress.  If we are not interested in ‘what if’ then things will always stay the same.

Curious people can be intimidating though – they challenge the status quo and make people feel uncomfortable.  I have often asked developers difficult questions about the art of the possible and hopefully driven better outcomes for patients as a result.  Its part of being able to see a wider perspective and to be able to see how technology and data can be used to a fuller strategic perspective.

So what am I currently curious about?  If we want to care for more people at home how can we lever technology to help?  I visited a brilliant care home near Coventry last week where these are using noise detectors in a large home to help to identify when things happen at night.  This increases rather than decreases privacy as it prevents the night staff having to actually go in to rooms at night for checks which in turn frees them up to support people who don’t sleep and focus on their ‘Wide awake club’ meaning care overall improves (and falls have reduced too).  I am interested in technology like Alexa and exploring how we can use it with patients.  Artificial intelligence too……. I could go on…… technology is a rich seam of interesting stuff for a curious person.

Curious people often have great imagination too and can describe how things might be, having conversations, visioning, and leading strategic change.

The third trait is a relentless focus on improvement.

I care deeply about the experience of people we care for, their carers and families.  This is fed from my own long term condition but everyone has the potential to empathise.

Sometimes the status quo is fine when you are on the right side of the service.  But it might be less so when you or your loved ones are unwell.  It changes the dynamic and you suddenly have what I call ‘real skin in the game’.

An example:

This week I received a letter from my GP.  It pointed out that I have a prescription for pre-filled insulin pens but I have no prescription for needles and it enclosed a  leaflet on how to give injections.  It concluded that they had set up an prescription for me to have needles.

What they failed to do was check my record.

The data they hold about me should have told them that I have an insulin pump.  I only use pens as a back up and rarely use them.  I have a box of 100s of needles prescribed 10 years ago that I have yet to use.

If the people focused hard on improvement using data they would have realised a number of things:

I am a pump user so don’t need many needles

I have had diabetes since 1979 and maybe sending me a leaflet about giving injections was slightly patronising (I suspect I have given more injections than the practice nurse).

I think using data is an important part of improvement science.  But use it well. Focus on outcomes and do proper PDSA cycles.

I would love to know what outcome they expected when they sent me the letter.

Improving my injection technique might be the aim and I am grateful for that but they need to use the data in a better way.

Data is the lifeblood of improvement science.

If they wanted to make things better what outcome are they measuring? And how will they judge if they have made a difference.

Nurses who are digitally ready focus on service improvement informed by data!  I can’t stress strongly enough that a digital ready nurse understands the value of data and the contribution it makes to better outcomes.

My fourth point is resilience.  Its quite a trendy word right now so what exactly do I mean?

Resilient people keep trying.  They are bouncy and in this instance keep advocating for the technology no matter how many times they are shouted down or doors slammed in their faces. When you innovate using technology it doesn’t always go well but you have to keep adjusting, reframing until you get the best outcomes.

Its OK to say ‘That didn’t work did it?  Now how can we try to make it better?’  It takes a particular tenacity and resilience to safely fail and keep trying.  It’s a mind set.  I suppose another word for this might be an optimistic mindset.

I honestly think that technology and data create a great opportunity to make the lives of patients and nurses better.  But it’s a journey. Its not a one off.  It takes hard work, as an ongoing endless journey.

I have been in this space for 17 years and I have often felt like I was talking to myself.

Things are changing but digital nurses need to not fall over at the first hurdle but believe data and technology CAN make things better.

Finally trait five!

Networking and learning from each other.

I believe in stealing other peoples good ideas and building on them, if it improves care.  I don’t mean stealing patents, and those type of ideas, but I do mean the sort of mentality that looks around to see what other people are doing to see what you can learn!

Social media is one way of doing this.  Digital in this sense has created a whole new way of learning and communicating across the world.

Networks are a fantastic way to feed your curious traits, or your creative skills.  I urge you to connect and look around.  Are you well connected?  Do you have fantastic networks?

I am lucky that I am often these days asked to judge awards.  It shocks me how often nurses describe their projects to us and see them as unique, special – when in fact the trust in the next county or in NI or Scotland or wherever, are doing the same thing better!  Just think of the potential of networks when they are cumulative for the development of ideas.

Networks are generous spaces; if you don’t believe me take a look at the Fab NHS Stuff site where people are generously sharing their ideas.

So, finally – why do I think I might be digitally ready?

The five characteristics:

I am change positive, curious and relentlessly focussed on improving the experience of service users and importantly outcomes.  I am resilient, prepared to try new things and learn from others.

How are you digitally ready?

curiosity and my cat 🙂


Informatics skills – If you always do

‘If you always do what you have always done,

you will always get what you always got’

I see this everywhere, urging us to change; I am a bit bored with it to be honest but it does have an irritating ring of truth about it.

Nurse keyboardI’ve been thinking about the skills that nurses, midwives and health visitors need now and for the future over the last week, as a result of meeting 100s of nurses and talking to them about informatics. What I do know is that technology has already impacted on practice and I feel sure it will continue to do so. These days, as I only spend short rare periods on the ward, I often can’t use a piece of new equipment and have to ask someone to help. Informatics – that is both the use of information resources and technology – have an insidious impact on practice and increasingly are woven into the work we do with patients.

dream jobWhy is it then that we continue to write job descriptions (JDs) that could have been written 2 decades ago when I was a ward sister? They seem old fashioned and if they are trying to describe what nurses need to do they are dull, dull, dull. Nursing is one of the most exciting and diverse jobs I can think of yet if you go and pick up a vacancy on NHS Jobs and open the job description I suspect you might feel underwhelmed. In a competitive labour market surely we need to do better than this? These JDs are like a window into your organisations!

Two years ago I collaborated on a piece of work with Professor Dawn Dowding. We randomly sampled job descriptions taken from NHS Jobs on a single day and analysed them to look for the skills relating to informatics. I was yet again underwhelmed. You can see the full publication here (sorry its pay walled).

In a world where using information and technology are almost routine parts of our lives these JDs were shocking. Few referred to using information in a modern way although there were oblique references to some of these concepts. 16571920_sOne of the most powerful feelings I came away with was the rules driven Information Governance agenda with the focus on ‘thou shall not’ with no focus what-so-ever on how sharing information can improve safety. I am pleased that since then the Caldicott 2 review has corrected this perception but a quick scan on NHS Jobs reveals that this is still not evident in JDs.

Nursing is a modern profession. It is continually reshaping itself to meet the needs of the people we care for. Job Descriptions reflect how we see roles, how we recruit people with the skills to do the job and these in turn inform workforce plans that help us to educate the future workforce. We need modern nurses who are skilled users of information and technology to meet the challenges of the future. But if we always describe nursing in the ways often expressed in JDs, we will always get what we always got!

Here is a my take on a redraft – Nurse Draft JD – as an example of a more modern JD. I am not saying it is right, it was developed with my particular focus and was drafted before the 6Cs Compassion in Practice strategy but I believe it has the informatics skills woven through it, just like the use of information and technology are woven into practice. I just wanted to show how informatics could be described without asking for ‘Computer Skills’!!!!

We need to up our game.

technology future