BLOG 2nd March 2017

Digital? What is that?

Guest blog post by Amanda Neylon, Programme Director – Digital Delivery, NHS Digital

I’ve been working in ‘digital’ for over 10 years and something I am asked a lot (and not just by my parents!) is ‘What is digital?’. Some of us remember when digital meant that we didn’t need film in our cameras or our TVs had more than 5 channels. My first job was in ‘new media’ then I was responsible for ‘websites’ and now it’s ‘digital’ and there will probably be another word soon. Or maybe we won’t even need a word anymore because it will just be what we all do.

So what is digital to me? Well I try and look at it differently, I prefer the word technology, I believe my job is to help everyone make the most of technology. It’s not just about websites or social media, it’s about exploiting all that technology can do to inform, connect, support and inspire us.

Technology and people

When I was working at Macmillan, we looked at how technology could make a difference to people affected by cancer. That meant redeveloping our cancer information to be easier to understand with case studies, videos and personalised content, available to view on any device. It was developing apps to make life easier, with reminders when to take medication, or documenting your pain and symptoms so you could share with your doctor. It was simple data tools for the people commissioning services in local areas so they could see all the information they needed about cancer in one place to enable them to make the best decisions for their community. It was our nurses doing web chats and answering questions on Facebook so patients could get support when they needed it, not having to wait until their appointments.

Similarly in NHS Digital, we exist to help patients, clinicians, commissioners, analysts and researchers. Our goal is to improve health and social care in England by making better use of technology, data and information. That covers a wide range of products and services. We run the Spine, the technology that supports the infrastructure for health and social care in England, joining together over 23,000 healthcare systems in 20,500 organisations. We provide tools that allow you to access, review, monitor and extract data for analysis and reporting. And we are transforming patient services such as the NHS Choices website so we can connect people with the information and services they need, when they need it most. Oh and we do a bit of social media.

Digital isn’t just about developing the geeky stuff, it’s about how organisations work too. The ability to understand and exploit digital should be part of everybody’s job now. That is not just about adopting the latest new technology, or using social media, it’s about changing the way organisations think and work. Digital technologies support faster change (well compared with things that need welding, foundations or 5 years of training), this enables us to be agile, in the true sense of the word, not just as a project methodology. It’s about being collaborative, starting small, testing, learning, iterating and being brave, which in turn enables us to be more responsive to users’ needs throughout a product life span. So a huge part of being in digital right now is being able to support culture change and staff development.

Digital Exclusion

It’s all well and good developing organisations to be more digital and developing all this great technology, but we also need to make sure everyone out there is equipped to use it. At NHS Digital this is particularly important to us as there is a correlation between health inequalities and digital exclusion, so we are working hard on projects to close that gap.

So. Digital? It is much more than social media, it’s how we use everything about technology to live, work and make our lives easier. At least that’s what I tell my parents!

More about Amanda…

Amanda is Programme Director for Digital Delivery at NHS Digital, having formerly worked as Head of Digital for Macmillan Cancer Support. Amanda was part of a panel at our Transformation from the Comfort of your Chair event at the Google Hive, PwC. This was the third event in our Network, Not Work series, bringing the NI cultural sector together for more than the usual small talk.

Understand your audience, develop your strategy today. TALK TO US