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Digital capability plan - would we be better just to wait?

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Capability

I am 38 and I have a 6 year old son. Pretty soon he'll be outscoring me at Flappy Bird.

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There's a school of thought that says digital capability is a generational thing, that there's not much hope for the over 45s, that staff will become more digital through natural wastage, and that the best digital capability strategy for an organisation might just be to wait.

But there's a bit more to digital capability than a seemingly innate understanding of when to tap or swipe. In the Department of Health many of the people doing the most interesting digital work are over 45, and some of the people doing the silliest digital things grew up with the internet. It's really not about age, it's about mindset.

And we can't afford to wait. This internet thing is happening now. I haven't come across anyone at the department for whom the internet is irrelevant to their work, whether their job is to transform patient care, or to organise meetings.

We've blogged before about some of the things we're doing at DH to drive capability and confidence. I think this stuff is really worth doing. This is an update:

We're doing a bunch of stuff that will take some time to pay off: working with our HR colleagues on recruitment, performance management and reward. We're now routinely running sessions on digital at induction sessions for staff, and as part of policy making training, and we have a programme of opt-in workshops for those who want to enhance their understanding or skills. And we're finding better ways to provide practical help for people at their desks. This is all the long game.

We're also working with our network of digital champions, and we're going to scale that up in the next few months, with the aim of getting 500 people accredited to a minimum standard for digital skills by April. We're going to call that our Digital Passport - more on that soon.

And we're providing bespoke coaching to our senior leaders to help them lead this agenda with confidence. Our offer (6 bespoke, 1-on-1, half hour sessions on different aspects of digital, delivered over 6 months) has taken some organising, but it's been worth it. We now have some more enthused, slightly better informed leaders, and a set of reusable sessions on subjects like: digital open policymaking, mass mobilisation of people, buying technology, the service standard, internal productivity, and what we know about how people behave online.

It feels like we're doing something useful, but is it actually worth doing? Well we're doing our best to measure the impact. We have some benchmarks, and some before and after scores. Just by running a workshop we've been able to shift digital confidence up by 10% with some groups in the department. With others we've somehow managed to decrease confidence - I suppose sometimes the more you know, the more you know you don't know. Our work on the passport will help us to measure some of this more comprehensively. We'll report back on that. I hope it will show that doing all of this is a bit better than just waiting.

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  1. Comment by Robert L Cooper posted on

    Why when I attend the Doctors surgery the cabinets are overloaded with paper files ?
    2014 is a digital age .The files could be mixed up (which has happened ) Appointments/medication etc could be arranged online. We can book theatre seats online ,purchase goods online .
    Lets go for it .

  2. Comment by Matt posted on


    Good piece, and very encouraging to see DoH getting out there.

    Gordon Brown is the man to blame for our VISIBLE health IT woes - of course only in England - the Scots were far too canny to waste their matching funds. Shame Gordon wasn't Scottish, lol! 'nuff said, what's £30bn between friends anyway?

    An interesting benchmark would be to measure digital people's confidence in the DoH before and after intervention. If you could get a 10% improvement in one meeting there - I would really be impressed.

    In marketing terms you are at the confluence of several dodgy brands: DoH - safer when used on Simpsons rather than regarding HMG! - NHS, the world's most expensive football, and HMG - the abbreviation for unbelievable IT waste. So I certainly respect your courage.

    Given the rate at which politicians (rather than public servants, in general) screw up IT projects, we'd better get on with Digital Health while there are still enough of us alive after the return of squalor related Victorian diseases to care, and can still lose MPs for the bargain basement price of 1/4Mill. So go for it.

    And genuinely good luck, because getting it right does matter.

  3. Comment by Dave Ashbey posted on

    From experience working in Health Information at NHS Direct over the last 14 years, all generations are getting more internet savvy when it comes to finding information about their conditions & treatments online. Although a lot of patients I spoke to about websites they'd looked on were (relatively) younger, there were a significant amount of silver surfers asking about things they'd found online about conditions they'd got or treatments they were on.

    Unfortunately, the internet being what it is, most people (of all ages) had found conflicting information - and from what might be considered quality medical websites.

    Since the internet had largely taken over from NHS Direct in providing health information to the public with the advent of 111, perhaps it would be useful to include in any 'digital training' for the public the simple measures needed to increase the chances of finding decent information about conditions, treatments & rights when searching the internet.

    Doing so would increase the chance of the public being better informed about their health, making better decisions about their options & maybe even saving a few GP/PN consultations to sort out the confusion caused by patients finding dodgy information via the web.

    There's a fair army of ex-NHSD health information staff who were made redundant in April looking for work, perhaps they could use their skills to help the public help themselves better in future?