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Health and care must prepare for a digital world, says Scotland’s digital director

Challenges include dealing with ethical questions, data and collaboration needs in a digital environment, says Scottish government’s Colin Cook

Scottish government digital director Colin Cook has urged the country’s health and care service to “prepare for the challenges of the digital world”.

Speaking at Scotland’s digital health and care conference yesterday, Cook said the digital world is profoundly changing the way people live and work, and their expectations are changing.  

Radical change is needed if Scotland is to deliver a health and care system to meet those expectations, he said.

“It requires new leadership and new forms of collaboration and new forms of measuring our success and what it means to be a successful leader in a digital world,” said Cook.

Earlier this year, Scotland published its ambitious digital strategy for health and care, which set out plans to create a joint decision-making board, a national approach to service redesign and a national digital platform to ensure interoperability.

The decision-making board comprises representatives from national and local government and the NHS, and is supported by industry, universities and the voluntary sector. It aims to make national decisions on issues such as standards, coordinating developments across regions, monitoring progress on the strategy and sharing best practice.

Cook is chairing the board for the time being, and said the key focus is on delivering the strategy. “A strategy that just ticks a box and sits on the shelf and gathers dust is really no strategy at all, it’s of no value,” he said.

“I hope over the next few months I can bring enthusiasm and determination to kick this off. The strategy itself represents a fantastic opportunity to enable the changes we all want to see in healthcare.”

One of the key announcements in the strategy was the development of a national digital platform for Scotland, which will ensure all relevant information from patients’ health and care records is integrated and available.

The platform will allow for information capture and point-of-care access – with role-based, secure access – and includes specialist health and care information, as well as knowledge sources for staff and citizens.

Read more about healthcare IT in Scotland

  • NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde and NHS Lothian are launching a proof-of-concept pilot of a Scottish digital pathology programme.
  • NHS National Services Scotland has launched its Spire system, sharing anonymised patient data for research purposes.
  • Partnership between the Scottish Government and Nesta will see funding available for innovative projects driving the use of technology to give citizens access to data and help them live healthier lives.

New products will also be made available through the platform, and the Scottish government is encouraging a broader ecosystem of development and suppliers, particularly small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

Cook said the platform provides “a fantastic opportunity to do things differently” and creates an “interconnected world in which partnerships, collaboration and networks will thrive”, instead of one “where we build organisations behind firewalls”.

He said it is also important to ensure that proper and robust information governance and assurance is in place to support the platform.

“We can’t avoid the hard questions bout the ethical dimensions of digital,” he added. “If we are going to be successful, we are going to have to maintain the highest levels of standards and ethics.”

To ensure the uptake of digital services, all organisations involved in care delivery will be expected to sign up to a digital participation charter, which focuses on ensuring people have basic digital skills. 

Cook described the charter as  “a hugely important initiative to ensure people are included in the digital world”.

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