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Digital transformation - a need or a distraction?

Author: Dallas Pounds
23 May 2017

Royal Trinity Hospice is set to undergo a digital transformation. Chief Executive Dallas Pounds explains how they will identify where it is most needed.

When I became CEO at Royal Trinity Hospice in 2013 the last thing on my mind was leading digital transformation. In fact I would go as far as to say I did not even recognise the phrase as being relevant to me or to the hospice. Now I can barely move or attend a meeting without hearing about it and people asking each other in hushed tones “what are you doing about digital?”

I had an iPhone and I even tweeted occasionally, did that not mean I was savvy? The hospice had electronic patient records which were a step ahead of where I had come from and the community nurses even had iPads to carry with them as they drove around the city. Surely Trinity was pretty digi-fantastic?

“You really need to get up to date with digital Dallas, it’s the way the world is moving.” Those were the words, delivered to me by the Chair of Trustees, that started my journey to digital enlightenment, or rather a better understanding of what everyone around me appeared to be getting either excited or anxious about.

I soon discovered that digital is so much more than using a computer to do what you used to do on paper, that it is the use of technology to enhance what you do and how efficiently you do it. Going digital does not as if by magic identify and solve your problems for you; it presents tools for you to use when you know what the problems are.

Whether it is for communication, information sharing, care delivery or fun, digital technology should be used to meet a need, not create one. What do I mean by that? Let me explain by describing what we at Royal Trinity Hospice have been up to recently, as we have begun our own digital transformation.

Trinity’s road to digital

I cannot really remember how this all started but I suspect it went something along the lines of me saying, “we need a digital strategy. Everyone is getting one, it is the way the world is moving”. I do remember a vague look of dread on the face of the COO, mild amusement from the Head of IT, and excitement in the bright, young, and newly appointed Service Development and Communications Lead.

The first step was to try and get a group of senior managers on the same page about what digital meant, agree how this Holy Grail was going to improve service provision at the hospice, and give us the highly desirable digital strategy we so obviously needed. We also needed some education in the language of digital, sorting our platforms from our apps from our CTRs.

A day of protected thinking time with an external facilitator set us on our way. “Don’t create a need for digital” she said, “identify the offline need and see if there’s an online solution.”  She also said that digital does not work without humans. If digital adds a step in the process it is not the solution, and it does not need to be separate but part of your DNA. We liked that.

Light dawned that yes, we should consider the use of digital technology, but it was not the answer to all our prayers. It would not make us more cost effective overnight, and actually patient care was still at the heart of all we do. If technology did not improve that we were just doing digital for digital’s sake.

Digital in action

We set up a small working group with the aim of spending one year embedding digital technologies into Trinity’s processes. This was not to develop a standalone digital strategy, but to place digital in the tool kit we use to develop and sustain our services and deliver our organisational strategy.

To begin with we identified and reviewed all the ways in which digital technologies were already being used to support and deliver services. There was a surprising amount: patient records, staff records, finance, payroll, training, the website, the intranet, remote working, clinical equipment, and business intelligence. It became clear though that improvements and upgrades would need to be considered and many were not covered in the budget. We started a list of things to think about investing in.

All senior managers across the hospice and retail where then asked to consider how digital might enhance what they did and the list of potential projects to invest in grew: CRM, contactless donations, electronic annual reports, and many more.

We recently found ourselves launching a patient app and appearing on the BBC talking Virtual Reality! However, both are at the early stages, so their futures too are on the consideration list.

How do you decide between investing in contactless donations, a whizzy non-paper annual report, or an upgrade to the finance system? We are trying a matrix system looking at priority, risk and impact. We will apply the tests we started with: does this meet an existing offline need? Does this take steps out of a process? Do we have the humans to use and manage it? Are we just doing it because we can?

Alongside the need for process and decision-making support we are also looking at how to engage with staff, some of whom are technology-phobic. The key of course is to demonstrate the benefit of using technologies for them and for those they care for. 

We are establishing a series of blogs to introduce and demonstrate the place of technology at Trinity. These won’t be from experts or just the IT department, but from colleagues in all areas and at all levels. There is also a strong message to be given about us not seeking to cut costs or people with the use of digital, but reaching more people if we embrace it.

I think it would be fair to say that at Trinity we now have a healthier, if still embryonic, relationship with digital. We do not have a 30-page digital strategy; we have a simple aim to make the consideration of technology a natural part of what we do.

We have a year’s plan to embed digital in to our DNA and to take control of it for our benefit. Watch this space!

For more information visit Royal Trinity Hospice

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