Reflections from Health and Social Care Digital Leaders’ Summit 2018

Written by: Douglas Maxwell, ALISS Programme Manager, the ALLIANCE

Published: 27/04/2018

Douglas explores the use of standards in digital health and social care.

I’ve just attended the FutureScot Events Health and Social Care Digital Leaders’ Summit 2018 (this link will take you away from our website) and while the event was packed full of interesting and thought provoking discussion, two things really stood out for me that day.

The first one was the panel discussion on the National Clinical Strategy (this link will take you away from our website) and it was something that Christopher Wroath, Digital Director of NHS Education for Scotland (this link will take you away from our website) said, and I’m paraphrasing here, “we’re doing digital wrong and not leveraging the buying power and scale of the NHS with our current procurement model”. What I took away from this was that when we need a solution, we go and procure a “slightly” (my addition) configurable system that does what we need.  I think Christopher’s real point was that what we should be doing is setting the digital and technical infrastructure standards first, that are mandated across all departments and boundaries both physical and territorial and then going out to businesses and saying here’s our standards, here’s our challenges – what can you build us?

The second was the masterclass on interoperability and as Robin Breslin said, if you’re ever looking for a word with loads of syllables then you’ve found the winner in interoperability. Robin is the Business Development Manager for Forcare a company who “turn silos of data into useful patient information”. Robin described how interoperability is at the foreground in England with NHS England, NHS Digital and the Royal College of Physicians at the forefront of this agenda and the foundation of this is open standards. But before I go any further it’s helpful for a quick definition of interoperability; means “being able to send information from one system to another and for the information to be meaningful in both places, and useful in multiple contexts” (Robin Breslin, Forcare 2018).

Robin gave an overview of the standards in use (my next blog), but it was at the end of the masterclass that Robin highlighted that the days of having one all-encompassing system are gone, they are too expensive and can’t work. Now, it’s about re-using existing systems and developing open systems (using standards).

Before I go further, I’ll give you my definition of (digital) standards; I believe that they’re a set of criteria to ensure consistency, efficacy and efficiency across one and/or different systems. Look out for my next blog, going into more detail on standards.

At this event I heard two people, from two different backgrounds, from two different countries and both with significant experience in health systems talking about standards.

Yes, my mind was tacitly making a meaningful link.

Now I’ve a confession to make, if you’ve read this far and are looking for answers, I’ll apologise just now, what Christopher and Robin have given me are questions, loads of questions. I’m not going to profess to have the answers, but it has highlighted some thoughts that I wanted to share.

In the newly launched Digital Health and Care Strategy (this link will take you away from our website) the use of standards cannot be emphasised enough and so the strategic direction is clear; Standards drive efficient and effective services and systems.

If the drive and long-term vision is for Third Sector data and information to be seen, valued and used on an equal weighting within a national health and wellbeing system, then;

  • What standards are already in use in the Third Sector today and how can we maximise their reach and efficacy?
  • What is the Third Sector doing now to ensure we align our digital information systems with other public service standards?
  • What types of skills and experience does the Third Sector need to work with the national and internationally recognised standards in use today?
  • How many Data and/or Information specialists are working in the Third Sector today, and how can we maximise this critical skill set?

These are just a few of the questions I have after this event.

At the ALLIANCE we will look to explore and refine these points further in collaboration with the Third Sector and also link it to our wider work across digital health and care.


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