EHI Live: Putting the buzz back in healthcare IT

The delegates at this year’s EHI Live attended with real purpose. Many exhibitors have reported holding interesting conversations with senior IT and clinical staff from the NHS who wanted to discuss specific projects and investigate new technologies. While NHS budgets overall may be shrinking, around half of those who attended said their IT spend was increasing this year, reflecting other research released by EHI Intelligence at the show that revealed that total IT spend in the acute sector will increase by 4.2 per cent in 2012-2013 and continue to grow in each of the following four years.

Health Informatics: The buzz is back

This positive outlook was reinforced in the conference programme, particularly in the keynote speech to the conference given by new health minister, Dr Dan Poulter. As well as laying out the key parts of the new NHS Information strategy, Dr Poulter suggested the government will announce “…more dedicated funds for clinicians to harness technology” in the coming months. As one exhibitor commented: “The buzz is back in Health Informatics, showing us there’s life after the national programme. EHI Live captured and amplified that very well.”

The feeling was shared by other vendors: of the 120 suppliers exhibiting at the show, 75 per cent signed up on the day to exhibit again next year.

Small and medium-sized companies (SMEs) also received a boost at the show, with Markus Bolton, founder of SystemC and now director of Shearwater Healthcare Solutions arguing in his conference presentation that procurements for NHS IT systems should not exclude SMEs. As he pointed out: “If you automatically cut out small providers, you are cutting out the agile, smart ideas. The input to your procurement, even if you do not choose them or choose to include them as partners with a larger company, can be massive.”

Bolton feels the government is finally taking on board the message that large projects need to be broken down into smaller chunks which will allow SMEs to participate. That perception was borne out by the remarks made by another speaker, deputy government chief information officer Liam Maxwell. He agreed that SMEs are where most innovation comes from and that they are generally much cheaper and more flexible to deal with than large companies, but acknowledged that major cultural change would be needed – culture change the Cabinet Office is looking to promote.

Clinicians to play greater role
EHI Live 2012 also saw a greater emphasis on the role clinicians should play in NHS IT, with this year’s event playing host to the first CCIO Leaders Network Annual Conference. The CCIO Leaders Network was established last year to support the CCIO campaign launched by eHealth Insider in June 2011, which calls for every NHS provider organisation to consider appointing a chief clinical information officer (CCIO). Mike Farrar, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, warned in a keynote speech that lack of senior management interest in information is no longer viable – but that CCIOs, as clinicians with real frontline experience, are in a particularly powerful position to encourage that transformation. He described CCIOs as “white knights” who can deliver increased awareness of the value of information in connecting with patients and bringing about clinical improvements. “The quality of the messenger is important,” he pointed out. “Clinicians are trusted more than politicians and managers.”

Meanwhile, in the main conference programme, Dame Fiona Caldicott called for “information governance” to be renamed “clinical governance” as part of encouraging a cultural shift in the NHS towards more information sharing.

Dame Fiona, who is leading an independent review of information governance in the health service, said it has become clear that the NHS is “erring on the side of not sharing” information in ways that are not acting in patients’ best interests. She suggested the name change would help encourage greater understanding and commitment to the need to protect patient privacy and confidentiality, while at the same time ensuring that clinicians have the necessary information to treat their patients.

Award winners
It wasn’t just vendors, politicians and policy makers who took centre stage at the event, though.

Finalists from the EHI Awards 2012 in association with BT outlined the work that made them finalists, the impact it has had, and the latest developments in their projects. Meanwhile, the Best Practice Showcase was expanded to provide even more space for visitors to meet people from NHS trusts working at the cutting edge of innovation and implementation, to find out what works and who is behind the success stories.
As one visitor commented, the Best Practice Showcase provided “some of the most informative and useful sessions: real-life examples, warts and all, with the chance to meet presenters after sessions to share experiences.”

Twitter trending

The buzz didn’t just happen in the conference halls and on the exhibition floor, either. This year, the #ehilive hashtag was ‘trending’ on Twitter in the UK top 10 on both days of the event. Altogether, #ehilive received more than 2.5 million impressions over four days, starting on the eve of the show, with 2,260 tweets made by 455 tweeters.

In short, while many eHealth events and conferences have struggled to provide value to either attendees or exhibitors in recent years, EHI Live has once again proved itself to be the key event in the eHealth calendar. This year’s event brought together everyone involved in healthcare IT – suppliers, healthcare IT professionals and clinicians – for lively and productive discussions and debates about how to use IT to improve the efficiency and quality of health services. And the eHealth world will get a chance to do it all again in a year’s time: organisers are already planning how to make EHI Live 2013, which takes place 5-6 November 2013 at the NEC Birmingham, even bigger and better.

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