Today I took part in a fantastic event, organised by the NHS Health Informatics Faculty, on the Power and Perils of Social Networking which was downright inspiring, as much for the people who attended as for the realisation that there are others out there who think like me...which is always nice - I feel validated :-)
Four of us presented:
Rowan Purdy - ex-Knowledge manager for the CSIP (Care Services Improvement Partnership), now of Surepoint, a new knowledge consultancy
Rod Ward - freedom of information campaigner and blogger (see Rodspace and Informaticopia)
Paul Hodgkin of Patient Opinion (see this post on Headshift for a rather good write up of his work and thinking and here for their blog to which I contribute also)
Interestingly, and despite my concerns about the degree of crossover in terms of our talks, we all complemented and support one anothers perspectives. It was thoroughly enjoyable to not be the only maverick in the room...
There are several key points I touched on, which were reflected in the others presentations to some degree:
1) The way we communicate is changing, has changed in fact, and Web 2.0 means the internet is now, as well as being a paradise of shopping and porn, a very large, very complex conversation. Studies are beginning to show that we trust the opinions of our peers more than those of institutions, in retail, and in health. The consumer, and the patient, now has a voice, and it's getting louder. If we (the NHS) don't join the conversation, it will happen without us.
2) The NHS is hugely paternalistic. In fact, the UK is hugely paternalistic. We're told what we can and can't do to such a degree that we are being treated like errant children. Unsuprisingly, sometimes we behave that way. If the drive is towards a wellness rather than an illness model of care, then surely we should be able to make our own decisions, to be empowered to make our own choices, do our own research, live our own lives. Unfortunately, there's a conflict between what the government et al want us to do (self manage more) and the existing culture of health, which is often one of superiority and knowledge conservation, which hampers our efforts at self management. Informed and intelligent conversations are happening outside the NHS about patient care but these are not integrated into daily practice. Some clinicians still feel threatened when a patient turns up having researched their own condition...(I'd love to qualify that statement, but I've forgotten where I read it - so consider it an observation...).
3) The NHS is a brand - it doesn't actually exist. There is no one controlling body. The DOH does this to some extent, but it isn't "The NHS". That is actually an enormous number of diffuse organisations. That said, how do you leverage social networks across the NHS? There are a multiplicity of sites and networks, all with different focuses (or should that be foci?) so inevitably, you get different business models which drive different types of networks, silos of sharing based on role, geography, culture, specialty, profession etc. It's incredibly complex but that shouldn't be a reason to ignore the fact that multidisciplinary working is so very important for the success of the NHS. So, I bit the bullet, and suggested that we try to join some of these diffuse sites together - possibly along the lines of Open ID, maybe Dataportability is the way to go, but someone somewhere needs to think about this on a national level. That's not to say that we should create yet another bureaucratic, hierarchical monstrosity, but that some leadership is needed, or some collaboration, but something...
Interestingly, this week, NHS Networks posted on their site a closure notice which states:
We regret to announce that, due to lack of funding, NHS
Networks will cease operations on 31 October 2008. More information
I spoke with the National Institute for Innovation and Improvement, who currently fund NHS Networks, and was told it isn't their core business, so they are no longer providing funding. Which begs the question, who would say the support and encouragement of networks in the NHS is their core business - I would suggest, it's the core business of every organisation in the NHS! But with so many targets and directives and changes and plans and strategies and measurements each and every one of these organisations has to adhere to, the basic requirement for people to learn from what they do is way way way down the list of priorities....
What can you do?
To see what was talked about at the event, you can read about it on Rod Ward's blog Informatacopia which he wrote (amazingly quickly) during the event.
A long one, but I feel better for a bit of a rant :-)