HIMSS and Health 2.0 European Conference

Helsinki, Finland
June 11-13, 2019

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It's about time that we get Digital: developing the right workforce for the present and future of healthcare

When writing about this topic, I get slightly frustrated, since it reflects how unprepared I felt once I started off my career as a healthcare professional. In Medical School, you learn all about anatomy, physiology, you get a little bit into genomics, you get clinical experience, mostly from an observer point of view and then finally you get to be tested through examinations which were designed to see how good your rote memory is, together with another set of examinations, where you need to examine patients in front of other doctors, who most probably have seen the same technique, hundreds of times. But how about, data science? communicating using modern digital health tools? telemedicine? virtual reality? bioinformatics? Artificial intelligence?

Unfortunately, the answer is no. I graduated 7 years ago and currently I'm in my last year of training as a Public Health Specialist, which is focused on the bigger picture rather than clinical work, practised on a one-to-one basis. Things might have changed since then, but I feel that we can do much more on a European level to digitally enable our healthcare professionals.

The need for Digital Skills

Fear not, there is a ray of hope, especially when you see the calibre of work delivered from the NHS, specifically NHS Health Education England. Under the expert guidance of Digital Health guru Dr Eric Topol, they have managed to assemble a clear vision with a relevant roadmap to take the workforce of NHS England to the next level.

Furthermore, we have seen the setting up of NHSX, an intriguing setup meant to accelerate delivery of digital health solutions across the NHS. But upon further exploring the Topol Review, I was struck by the following statement:

"Within 20 years, 90% of all jobs in the NHS will require some element of digital skills."

90%; that is quite a significant number and considering how the healthcare environment is an environment involving immersive work with so many different people, we are understanding more and more, the importance of digitising, digitalising and digitally transforming our workflows. We have no other choice, we need to start scaling up our work as we deal with the demographic changes, that no health workforce recruitment initiative could catch up. Even, if the number of healthcare professionals is resolved overnight (which is highly unlikely due to multiple factors), we are facing an increasingly ageing population and we need technology and the relevant digital literacy to scale up.

The Three Principles

Does this mean that healthcare will become a factory of sorts? Designed to deliver through a simplistic input-process-output process? If we continue down the road of discrepancy created by the mix of paper and digital workflows, then it's highly likely we're putting ourselves at a disadvantage and patients will feel as if they're numbers, as we struggle with dealing with so many different issues and ever-increasing numbers. I believe that if we truly want to succeed and enable our workforce we need to keep these 3 principles in mind, as set forward by the Topol Review:

  • Patients need to be included as partners and informed about health technologies, with a particular focus on vulnerable/marginalised groups to ensure equitable access.
  • The healthcare workforce needs expertise and guidance to evaluate new technologies, using processes grounded in real-world evidence.
  • The gift of time: wherever possible the adoption of new technologies should enable staff to gain more time to care, promoting deeper interaction with patients.

All these principles should become the focus of the revolution of the healthcare workforce, from that of a burnt-out, frustrated and overwhelmed professional, to that of a balanced, informed and empathetic professional ready to tackle the next challenge.

If you are interested in this topic don't miss out the “Enabling the Shift to Community-Based care” on Wednesday 12th June at the HIMSS & Health 2.0 European Conference. This a unique and special workshop spread over two sessions in the morning and early afternoon.

Stefan Buttigieg
Specialist Trainee in Public Health Medicine, Malta
@stefanbuttigieg

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