“We are at the start of a journey to ‘mainstream’ the work of clinical informatics”: Ayesha Rahim discusses the importance of clinical informaticians for digital transformation

Ayesha Rahim is Chief Clinical Information Officer at Lancashire Care NHS Foundation Trust and is a member of the Faculty. She is a recent graduate of the first cohort of the NHS Digital Academy and is an advisory panel member of the CCIO network. She also sits on the advisory board of Health Tech Digital. Her interests include “mainstreaming” the profession of clinical informatics, and diversity and inclusion in the digital health space, as a steering group member of the Shuri Network.

I started my journey as a clinical informatician less than two years ago, when I was appointed as Deputy Medical Director for my trust. Although I knew that the new job combined a medical management position with a “technology role”, I had no idea quite what a digital journey I was in for. I had always been interested in the use of technology to improve the delivery of healthcare, but I didn’t have a technical background or specific skills around this. In the last two years I have found myself thrown headlong into a brand new environment, and I now work closely with people whose jobs I didn’t even know existed before I was appointed as CCIO. I have an incredible amount of respect for my colleagues working in IM&T – the NHS is rightly a much-loved institution, but it’s often only the nurses and doctors who get the recognition for the job they do within it. As jobbing clinicians, we all notice when tech in the workplace fails us or our patients, but how many frontline staff realise the complexity and the challenges of delivering a support service which is “invisible except on breakdown”?

Looking back, it’s interesting to note just how much of my interest in using health tech to make things better was driven by sub-optimal experiences of clinical IT systems in the NHS. Sound familiar? This is where I see the role of clinical informaticians being fundamental to digital transformation within healthcare. The only way to ensure that the systems we use work for us is by clinicians getting involved in the design and development of these solutions from the beginning. In an era when demand for healthcare services is rising and funding is struggling to keep pace, we must try and rethink how we deliver care in the 21st century.

Lest we get too disheartened, there is still much to celebrate in terms of innovation in the digital health space – the emergence of Shared Care Records is a great example of meaningful transformation for delivery of care to patients. I can now access clinical documentation from my acute care colleagues at the click of a button, whilst in my own clinic. It’s hard to overestimate what a difference this has made in being able to commence treatment with minimal delay compared with before. Technology doesn’t have to be bleeding edge to make a difference to people’s lives.

Clinical informaticians are the bridge between clinical/operational staff and technical staff. I believe we are key to ensuring that the solutions that are implemented are both workable at the coalface, and feasible technically. But we are still few in number. This was one of my main motivations for joining the Faculty – we need to establish ourselves as professionals in our own right and help to build a clinical workforce who are confident and capable in helping deliver digital transformation. We are at the start of a journey to “mainstream” the work of clinical informatics. The Faculty has a great opportunity now to encourage clinicians to get involved in this, and to support people in acquiring the knowledge and skills to help us do what we all trained to do – improve the lives of our patients.