Andy Kinnear is a long-time advocate of moves to professionalise healthcare IT. That’s why he’s backing the Fed-IP register and the Well Connected pledge launched at this year’s eHealth Week.
Andy Kinnear is well known for his work on Bristol’s Connecting Care project, which is building a local electronic patient record so that health and care staff can share information quickly and safely.
Since last March, he has also been chair of the British Computer Society’s Health Group; and one of the things that he is keen to push in this role is the professionalisation of healthcare IT.
“I have done a lot of reflection on my career, and when I look back I think I got into a senior role more by luck and investment in my own development than by anything else,” he says. “So I really, really, want to make sure that the next generation, and the generation after that, don’t have to do the same thing.
“I want them to have a career path to follow, and to have people investing in them so they can follow it.” This isn’t just a personal thing, Kinnear adds. Technology is now vital; it needs the very best people to run it.
“The BA incident [in which British Airways was grounded after an IT outage that was apparently caused by a power surge and botched reboot] show that,” he says. “Somebody pulls out a plug, and that takes down a whole airline? That’s just amateur.
“We have to avoid those kinds of IT implosions in healthcare, and to make sure the public is not affected, because there’s a lot more at stake than a few grounded planes and lost bags. To do that, you need a workforce that has been invested in and that is seen as important as the other professions.”
Building on old work and new developments
There have been a number of attempts to get people working in healthcare IT to formalise their qualifications, join professional bodies, and join a professional register.
Kinnear himself was involved in one of the early organisations, the Association for Health Informatics Professionals in Health and Social Care (ASSIST), while another body, the UK Council for Health Informatics Professions (UKCHIP) set up and ran a voluntary register until January last year.
The register baton has now been passed to Fed-IP, an umbrella for four bodies representing health informatics professionals: the BCS, the Library and Information Association (CLIP), the Institute of Health Records and Information Management (IHRM) and the Society for IT Practitioners in the Public Sector (SOCITM).
Kinnear says the early efforts “broke new ground” and “created the environment for talking about professional development” but a number of developments make progress much more likely this time around.
“We have had the Wachter Review [the study of NHS IT by US ‘digital doctor’ Robert Wachter that called for investment in ‘global digital exemplars’, in NHS IT leadership, and in digital skills more generally]. We have had the appointment of Will Smart and Keith McNeil [as chief information officer and chief clinical information officer at NHS England].
“We have got Keith working on the NHS Digital Academy, which is going to take 300 CIOs and CCIOs on a professional journey over the next few years. We are seeing national investment in a digital ready workforce; which is just incredible, because if you don’t think about people you just run IT projects – and we all know how they go.”
Registration for health informatics professionals
When UKCHIP handed over its register to Fed-IP, there were around 4,000 people on it. Kinnear says he expects this to grow over the next 12 to 18 months; and that registration will, eventually, become mandatory.
“My view, the Andy Kinnear view, which not everybody agrees with, is that we will work to certify digital leaders in the system. If you are a medical, or a nursing, or a tech CIO, at some point we will say: ‘For you, registration is now mandatory’.
“I hope we do that, because organisations do not appoint other professionals who are not professionally certified. Hospitals don’t appoint doctors who are not registered with the GMC. They don’t have legal counsel or finance directors who are not properly registered.
“The idea that a CIO or clinical CIO can just be somebody who is interested in IT won’t be enough, eventually.” That, he feels, will be a good thing, because it will give healthcare IT professionals more clout, and drive further investment in their careers.
“At the moment, even people who are interested, and talented, and doing important jobs are not getting the time they should get for professional development,” he says. “For a doctor, that’s mandatory; you have to do so many days every year to keep yourself current.
“There are some things for CIOs, like the Networks [set up and hosted by digitalhealth.net]; but there’s not enough of them and it’s all a little bit chaotic, and that needs to change.”
The Well Connected pledge
Alongside the registration drive, Fed-IP is running a pledge, Well Connected, that was launched at this year’s eHealth Week in Olympia. The pledge comes in two forms: one for professionals, who are encouraged to join the register at the same time, and one for non-professionals who still want to be involved.
Kinnear says he loves the first line of the professional pledge: ‘I will actively promote and demonstrate my commitment to putting communities first in health and care, and set an expectation that others will do the same.’
“I think it really makes sense. Over the past month, with the #NHScyberattack [the WannaCry attack that affected 145 countries, but particularly hit the NHS in the UK], people have had to close A&Es and cancel surgery. It’s another example of how technology is now a real thing, with a real impact.
“The Well Connected pledge says that people should care about this, and seek to do their best in their role.” He says Fed-IP will quietly promote the pledge, and occasionally use it as a rallying point for other initiatives.
“As we invest in the Digital Academy, and CPD, and certification, questions about ‘why are we doing all this?’ will inevitably come up, and they can be answered by pointing back to the pledge,” he says. “It will pull everything together.”
Part of a world wide shift
Kinnear really does feel that professionalism’s moment has come. “I feel fantastically lucky to be chair of the BCS as the stars align for it,” he says. And one final reason for that is that he thinks the UK is seeing a global phenomenon.
“At eHealth Week, we had Dr Louise Schaper [chief executive of the Health Informatics Society of Australia] over to talk about what is happening there,” Kinnear says. AMIA [the American Medical Informatics Association] is doing great work in the US and Canada.
“Richard Corbridge [the chief information officer for the Health Service Executive in Ireland] is very interested. There’s an ambition around the world to invest in health IT people and to get them to be the best they can.”
This interest, Kinnear argues, stems not just from the realisation that technology has become critical to health, but from its spread into people’s lives. “We all use digital in banking and travel and when we go on Facebook and the rest of it,” he points out.
“The global industry that sometimes feels like it’s built on sharing pictures of lunch has changed the dynamic. Technology is no longer the preserve of a select few. It’s everybody’s business. That means it’s health and care’s business, and that will raise the profile of the people who deliver those digital systems. This is only going in one direction now: not just in the UK but around the world.”
Take the Well Connected pledge: More information about Fed-IP and the Well Connected pledge, including the opportunity to sign-up, can be found on the BCS website, under the heading ‘informatics professionals for better wellbeing.’