“The stars are starting to align.”: Dr Brendan O’Brien on the Faculty of Clinical Informatics

Dr Brendan O’Brien is Consultant Clinical Informatics Specialist for Northern Ireland, based in Belfast, and has been involved with the development of the Faculty of Clinical Informatics from the outset. We are pleased to share some of his thoughts with you and, as you will read, Brendan’s career has been an interesting journey that has provided him with a lot of insight into clinical informatics and the present landscape.

It’s 1994 and a junior house officer grabs a quick coffee in the canteen in a district general hospital, ten miles south of Belfast. Not unusually, the conversation turns to the frustrations of the job and the inefficiencies of carrying around scraps of paper with to-do lists, stuffed into the pockets of a white lab coat, that is home to who knows how many nasty hospital bugs, alongside the obligatory Oxford Handbook and BNF (British National Formulary). Ah…’the good old days’!

During several of those conversations, we would sketch out user interfaces for fanciful IT systems that would track patients through their hospital journey, maintain the chart, and manage the to-do lists and handovers. The dream may have been largely about making the job more manageable but patient safety gains would be enormous. Had there been career structures for clinical informaticians back then, perhaps the last 25 years of my career may have been slightly less off the beaten path but then sometimes the journey is as important as the destination.

My own career has seen my progress from a front-line junior doctor, through training in public health medicine, a detour into the commercial world running my own health informatics business, to my current role as a Chief Clinical Information Officer for a regional commissioning organisation.

I have been a long-term believer in the need to professionalise informatics in healthcare; both for health and care professionals, and those in support roles, such as information staff. I served as a council member on the UK Council of Health Informatics Professions (UKCHIP) and on the steering committee and shadow board that were the precursors to the establishment of the Faculty of Clinical Informatics (FCI).

Unfortunately, UKCHIP never really reached a critical mass of members but I am hopeful that the Federation for Informatics Professionals (Fed-IP) will fare better and wish it well in its ambition to provide a professional home for those in the field of health informatics, who are not from a clinical background. The Faculty of Clinical Informatics is off to a great start, drawing its Founding Fellowship from across the breadth of health and care professions, including the recent addition of more Fellows to its ranks. I see both FCI and Fed-IP as essential in driving forward the professionalisation agenda.

So it’s time to rub the magic lamp and get my three wishes for the future of the Faculty: first up is working in partnership with Fed-IP, to raise the game in informatics across the service, to the benefit of our patients, clients and staff working in the system; second is providing a career path for those wishing to deep dive in the field of clinical informatics; and finally, that the faculty develops the training standards that equips the health and care workforce with the skills to make best use of the ‘actionable intelligence’ of modern health IT systems that I once dreamed of.

It’s 2018, it has taken time but it does feel like the stars are starting to align.