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The power of making the invisible, visible

Tara Donnelly recounts her experience of judging the 2018 HSJ Awards. This article was first published in HSJ on 15 October*

Recently, I spent an inspiring day, in great company, judging the Improving Care with Technology category of the 2018 HSJ Awards.

It was a privilege to hear direct from those involved about how their work was changing care, saving lives and making life simpler for clinical staff. There was a huge range of types of finalist, from small start ups, to GP practices, teams in large hospitals and mental health and ambulance services.

We heard from tremendously passionate and impressive pharmacists, doctors, physiotherapists, psychiatrists, psychologists as well as carers of people living with dementia and mental health issues. If we could have given them all a prize, believe me we would have. We also did a grand tour of the UK covering Manchester, Scotland, Yorkshire, Belfast, London and Surrey.

But for all the many differences, there stood out to me one predominant theme; the power of making what is invisible, visible.

Tools for busy mental health staff so they see the person who needs their help first, while not losing track of those who are due a contact, that prioritise patients most in need of a medicines review when admitted to hospital, using sensors and artificial intelligence to pick up problems in the home, almost before they happen, early alerts obviating the development of complications, tracking of sick children while transferring giving the clinical teams they have desperately missed, helping an anxious woman with a diagnosis of breast cancer know every step of the way forward, turning the process of tertiary referral from a messy, time consuming chore to a slick three minute procedure, saving days of doctor time every week.

These solutions are saving lives, bringing joy back to professionals and building a smarter NHS. They use highly evidenced techniques, such as clear visual management, and behavioural insights, to help busy humans make the best choice they can.

It’s the health service equivalent of the smartphone tools we now couldn’t be without in our personal lives, the maps that get us to new places, the nudges, reminders, quantification of how many steps we’ve done and the encouraging messages.

While undertaking the judging, my Apple Watch seemed to get quite concerned that I wasn’t as active as I usually am by that time of day. For me that’s mildly amusing, to be gently ticked off, for someone with depression this could be an important early indicator.

For the doctors running an e-hub for virtual consultations who were able to keep great GPs working for the NHS even when they had to move abroad, for the carer alerted to his wife’s condition change via a sensor so he could take early action avoiding an emergency admission to hospital, these technologies are game changing.

After a day of meeting these brilliant innovative staff and hearing how these great digital solutions, ranging from simple to those supported by algorithms, machine learning and AI, are already changing lives up and down the country I left with a spring in my step, and a keenness to help spread the brilliance, as all these ideas are well worth pinching (and, of course, they are all captured on the best practice database HSJ Solutions which can be accessed from the main site navigation).

So keep in mind, if you can make the invisible visible to your team, or organisation, you’re likely to help busy NHS staff improve care and love their job just a little bit more.

* https://www.hsj.co.uk/the-hsj-awards/making-the-invisible-visible/7023583.article