February 20, 2020

Interoperability for NHS Staff – Beyond the Jargon, Empowering Clinicians & Helping Patients

Black Pear’s chief technology officer is teaching NHS staff to cut through computer jargon and harness the potential of interoperability to radically improve the health service.

Dunmail Hodkinson is a leader in his field having spotted the potential of HL7 FHIR, a standardised system for exchanging medical data, to transform healthcare.

He was behind Black Pear becoming the first in the UK and among the first in the world to implement HL7 FHIR, which is now the global standard for interoperability.

Dunmail’s achievements have seen him selected to teach an introductory module on health information systems interoperability to NHS staff at Newcastle University.

While he has been the driving force behind our technological innovations Dunmail believes it is vital that those who will be using the products fully understand their capabilities.

He said:

Modern medicine is a knowledge industry and the amount of information that is available far exceeds what anyone can learn in their lifetime.

The job we have as IT developers is taking the right bits of information and making it more available to those that work in healthcare. But there is not enough knowledge of what is possible.

By giving healthcare workers more knowledge they are able to ask the right questions, and it will open their eyes up to information they wouldn’t have thought was even available.

There is an expectation that systems have to be slow and clunky but it doesn’t have to be like that. We can have applications that run on your mobile that are available everywhere.

By improving their knowledge of what is out there we can allow the people doing the job to ask for changes and get them made quickly.

This is exciting as it’s a chance to meet the people who can make these changes.

Dunmail has been teaching the concepts and terminology around interoperability as well as how to interpret basic computer science language on health information systems.

Attendees learnt about the main organisations responsible for health interoperability standards and how to describe the characteristics of the main standards in the UK.

The course has been put together in conjunction with the Institute of Coding and the NHS after they identified a “skills gap”, Dunmail said.

He continued:

We need to improve the level of knowledge that people practicing in healthcare have of interoperability technology.

We are working from the assumption that they don’t know anything.

Part of it is about debunking some of the jargon around computing and explaining what it all means, so they can understand it enough to make sensible decision about it.

We genuinely didn’t know who would turn up, because it’s a brand new initiative.

We got a great selection of clinicians looking to get more information. The idea was to give them the opportunity to step out of their jobs and learn a new set of skills.

It is an opportunity to go and meet people who are clearly interested in how interoperability can make things better – these are the people we want to be connecting with.

Dunmail’s three-hour seminar last month is one of ten sessions run by different experts on health informatics into March.

He will be delivering a talk on a similar topic at the Faculty of Clinical Informatics Annual Scientific Conference in London on May 14.

Explaining the importance of the engagements outside his day job, Dunmail said:

We have a sense of missions and purpose at Black Pear to say things to try and improve the healthcare of the nation. But we are not able to do that on our own.

If we can share our knowledge and learning it gives those working in the industry the capability to do things better.

But this is not just about Black Pear. In the health system we are all the customers and all the investors – we each have an interest as citizens of the UK.

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