A: When applying new digital innovations at the NHS, how do you ensure they will work for both the patient and clinician?
SS: It’s a hard thing in that we have a heavily regulated environment. The NHS is composed of more than 15,000 organisations in England. We have approximately 1.8 million workers and 1.4 million patient contacts every 24 hours. This means we have ongoing engagement with users. It’s essential that we develop products and services that people are more likely to use when accessing healthcare. Our user labs include a mixture of people—experts, those in a health IT role and end users. We keep iterating and customizing on an ongoing basis to ensure the flow is consistent with what people would expect. The risk is that when we don’t involve the people using the tools, they could become vanity projects that may be well designed, but may not be useful.
A: Are there any digital initiatives at the NHS that you were particularly excited to bring to fruition?
SS: For me, the journey of NHS 111 Online has been exciting to see the progress we have made from 2012 to deployment across England. Users have the ability to assess symptoms online and schedule an urgent care appointment. They can take advantage of both phone and physical services. A patient doesn’t always have to go to a walk-in clinic. They can stay home, go online and access symptoms or have a telephone consult to inform them of what they need to do next.
A: With technology evolving so fast, how does your organisation keep pace with the changes?
SS: We continuously horizon scan. Our teams constantly seek out the next set of developments to improve outcomes, experience and efficiency. We also explore to see what is happening in other industries. For instance, context setting in travel and e-tail. We have to adopt these developments for the healthcare setting.
It is important to focus on consumer-centricity, looking at society as a whole. Every time we design services, we must look at how we can reduce friction for the individual and improve the value proposition and experience.
A: How do you feel the new Health Secretary’s focus on technology, data and interoperability will drive positive change at the NHS?
SS: It is good that we have a health secretary with an understanding of technology who has a relentless focus on improving efficiency of the system with the help of technology. This has already resulted in a push toward innovation in the marketplace and development of a much greater ecosystem of partners. Companies are coming forward every day to work with the NHS- collaborating in a way that is very open.
A: Tell us a bit about your background. Have you always worked in healthcare?
SS: I have done a bit of both—I’ve worked in retail, banking, law and finance, but I’ve always been a clinician. If I combine my interest in technology with consumer experience and my knowledge of healthcare, I feel I can make a difference. It is possible to use similar technology to bring efficiency and improvement in healthcare. I want to make a difference by working with my healthcare peers to see how we can make the system more efficient as a whole and focus on the patients who need it most.
A: When you see a patient, how do your clinical and technology roles come together?
SS: If we look through the lens of precision and prevention, we can give each person a tailored plan for managing their care. Technology gives us one way to do that. Using visual and voice channels, there is an opportunity to have people help themselves. Most of what we see is preventable, so we need to give people tools to help themselves to make a difference in their own health. Each time I see a patient, it’s great to work out what we could have done differently to meet their needs and improve their experience.
A: What do you like to do outside of work?
SS: The most fun thing I do is with my two-year-old when she gets up in the morning. I have no choice but to get on the trampoline at 5:30 a.m. It’s a good start to the day!