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CIO podcast: Stephen Docherty leads from Bedlam to innovation

Stephen Docherty CIO of SLAM at the 2016 Innovation Leadership Summit. Picture by Vicky Matthers, Icon Photomedia

From Bedlam to patient led innovation, Stephen Docherty CIO of the South London and Maudsley NHS Trust in London told this title’s Innovation Leadership Summit how the mental health care trust is pioneering ways of creating a collaborative environment between clinicians, researchers, patients and technologists.

South London and Maudsley NHS Trust is the largest mental health provider in the UK treating one and half million people. The trust has four hospitals, 28 other sites and serves 45,000 outpatients a year and employs 4700 staff.  

Docherty joined the trust in November 2014 and this is his first role in the NHS having had a business technology leadership career in digital marketing, gaming and gaming technology providers, his CV includes roles at EA, Atari and Sony.

“It was a command and control culture,” Docherty told the UK’s largest CIO conference of the technology department he inherited on joining South London and Maudsley (SLAM). “We did a survey of perceptions in the organisation and the response was: ‘we are fed up with IT’”.

Docherty reversed the command and control culture: “I won’t tell you what you need, you tell me.” But the one thing the CIO did tell them was: “We are not managing email anymore, so we moved 5000 people to the Microsoft cloud.”

Moving email to a cloud provider may not be a technological innovation, it is the change in culture that Docherty followed through on: “We have freed people’s time up and they can not go around the trust and they do pit stops at International House or Brixton and it has changed the perception of IT.  We also rebranded Digital Services and that cost me just £75.

Gaming ahead

“People wear the NHS badge with pride,” he says of the longevity of service. Docherty says this is something the NHS must be proud of, but warns the health service to ensure it is bringing new ideas from outside of the organisation. Docherty says this is essential to ensure all members of the organisation from nurses up to the leadership teams are not always presented with the same ways of doing things. His own example was having joined SLAM the CIO devised a new technology strategy, but didn’t present the strategy in a major document as the board were used to: “When I took the strategy to the board I took a five minute YouTube video and a short brochure and they signed it off,” he tells the 100 CIOs attending.

Docherty, who chairs the CIO Council in London has challenged his peers in this forum for healthcare CIOs to adopt more cloud solutions. “Put cloud into perspective, is your shitty little server room better than a tier one data centre?”

As reported by Horizon Business Innovation Docherty was responsible for the launch of the the Centre for Translational Informatics at South London and Maudsley “to bring people together to solve problems”. The centre enables clinicians, researchers and patients to work together on improving mental healthcare and Docherty stresses that the patient involvement “is the important one”.

The centre has developed the use of virtual reality (VR) that enables children with OCD for example to work through scenarios and the CIO believes this is only the beginning of VR usage in mental health treatment.

“In order to facilitate innovation you need access to the patient record, so we take a copy and place it in a database and allow the research community to go into the database and derive insight from that data. We know the demographic of males that are likely to commit suicide. I asked then what they will do with that, the answer was ‘we write a paper’, but if you can derive insight then you can create an intervention,” the CIO says.

SLAM has worked on sleep monitoring apps, which provides the insight that poor sleep can lead to a psychotic episode.

“Overall what we want to do is change the dynamic with the clinician,” Docherty says. “If you can capture patient generated data and triage that with the health record you understand better and it allows a better understanding,” he adds. Docherty and his team have moved to an agile development methodology developing prototypes in 12 weeks on average when SLAM was used to long lead times.

Docherty believes innovation is becoming critical to the NHS as it struggles with continued cuts by the current government. He tells the Innovation Leadership Summit and this week’s podcast the story of Michael Seres an English sufferer of a rare bowel disease who is one of the few to have had a bowel transplant. During Seres’ illness he developed a device for bowel disease sufferers and approached the NHS to take his idea into fruition. Seres got lost in the bureaucracy of the NHS and took his idea to the US and got $10m in funding to commercialise his idea.  Docherty has thankfully got Seres back on board to help innovation in the UK health sector.

“Because this is what it is about – patient led innovation.”

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