It was a very interesting morning in the DocCom seminar at our Cardinal Place office, London. A room full of clinicians and other healthcare workers had gathered to discuss the new DocCom social network platform and current key IT-related issues affecting healthcare professionals.

It was a great mix of people ranging from lecturers in clinical communication through to GPs and directors of research and development. Some had great questions to ask, some had some great answers but what everyone had in common was a shared enthusiasm towards making healthcare communications much better than it's current state. Of course, this is where DocCom comes in to the equation as a secure, slick, online communication tool for healthcare. But first, we had a wide range of talks during the morning-long seminar...

Dr Jonathan Bloor, co-founder and CEO of DocCom, was the first to kick things off. He gave a short introduction to the morning's proceedings about the fundamental communication and coordination problem within healthcare. Jonathan also spoke about the benefits of online networks and communications involving the following principals:

  • engagement
  • relevance
  • impact
  • outcome.

Then it was on to our first official talk of the seminar - Nick Umney - Cloud Platform Specialist from Microsoft. Nick's talk centred around the impact of technology and the background behind cloud as well as why it's such a hot topic at the moment in the public sector. It was very interesting to hear him speak about how touch & voice command is becoming the way forward and the way we interact with technology is fundamentally changing from a user interface perspective. The agility of cloud is the name of the game - a number of the clinicians attending thought cloud was merely just a large storage dump for data. But, as Nick explained, the cloud has become extremely powerful as it offers IT as a service, platform as a service and software as a service. For a more in-depth explanation about what this all means, please take a look at Nick's recent blog posts - found via our webpage on cloud and the government's G-Cloud service.

Examples were given of some great cloud-based success stories including Love Clean Streets, Transport for London and the Environment Agency's FloodAlerts website/Facebook app.

Next in the seminar was Dr Peter Atiken - Director of Research & Development at Devon Partnership NHS Trust and Honorary Associate Professor at the University of Exeter Medical School.

The topic of his talk was around the issues and methods of engaging clinicians with social media in their day-to-day jobs. Problems with NHS IT security systems were highlighted as a major barrier - in the Devon Partnership NHS Trust it appears you can't use Skype, transfer data or access some social media websites - this seems to be the case in many healthcare organisations. Peter Aitken spoke at length about the need to keep good communication with internal IT departments for attitudes to change, new skills developed and so access to these new online social tools is easy and not frowned upon.

Peter also explained how NHS innovation is imperative to bring about change for the better. From his point of view, there are three types of social media user in the NHS - digital natives, digital migrants and dinosaurs. The starting point to tackle the anti-social media issue is to get the affectionately-named 'dinosaurs' enthusiastic about it's use. These 'dinosaurs' are normally those in more senior positions within the NHS who barely open up an email let alone use Facebook (for example).

Reasons for the low adoption of social media amongst senior NHS leaders appears to be for the following attitudes and beliefs:

  • Security fears
  • Why should I?
  • What if I make a mistake?
  • Old habits
  • Ownership and IP
  • City state mind set

Devon's own 'CLAHRC network' was set up to as an experiment to encourage those within the NHS Trust to get online and be able to interact to other healthcare professionals within their organisation easily. This would also be a hand-holding exercise where those not normally open to trying online social platforms were taken through the process and how useful it can be in a very practical and easy to understand way. This was found to boost enthusiasm.

Due to the concerns from staff about the security of personal data on these kind of social networks, CLAHRC was built as a closed network. Overall, monitored adoption of rates of CLAHRC grew steadily between 2005 and 2008 therefore the Devon Partnership NHS Trust deemed the CLAHRC exercise a great success. As Peter Aitken explained - you have to provide "love, care and attention" to those using the network and listen to what people need.

One good final point was raised - in Devon, general practises are at the leading edge of change. Those in the DocCom seminar room seemed to be of a similar opinion.

Following some good discussion around how to get clinicians enthused about using online networks, Dr Kevin Cleary - Medical Director at East London NHS Foundation Trust was next to speak.

Networks for patient safety was the topic of his talk. He gave an example about a incidents involving an incorrectly fitted nasogastric tubes which led to a death. Many of these incidents involved junior doctors and could have been avoided by better communication of important information from health agencies (such as the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency) and doctors. This is where a well-oiled online community could come in great use - especially for the younger doctors. Therefore they set up a DocCom network to communicate certain alerts about key medical information to raise awareness and as an experiment. Since then, Kevin explained how they have seen a promising rise in people reading the alerts now that they were posted online. It was a great success - 50% of junior doctors were now engaging with the alerts.

Finally, to round things off Dr Jonathan Shaw - founding Director of DocCom, summarised the key points arising from the morning's seminar. These included:

  • Healthcare communication is broken
  • The networking paradigm - the huge range of social networks available
  • Cloud infrastructure - a powerful platform
  • New form factors
  • Digital adoption issues - getting 'dinosaurs' to adopt new ways of communication
  • Patient safety - clinicians networking to share important healthcare information
To see video interviews with some of those who attended the DocCom seminar look here. For anyone wishing to keep up with the DocCom network news on Twitter (including news on the DocCom seminar video clips), please follow us @msukinhealth.