Eddie Turnbull, Head of Scottish Government eHealth

Written by Alan Robertson on 13 October 2015 in Feature

For 100 days, Connect is running through our Tech 100 for 2015, profiling the key figures driving the digital agenda in Scotland

Eddie Turnbull

Job Title/Organisation: Head of Scottish Government eHealth (@ehealthscotland)

What does your role involve?

I am responsible for the development of health and care digital strategy and policy for NHS Scotland. I also have collective responsibility with my eHealth Lead (CIO) colleagues in each of Scotland’s health boards for ensuring that our strategic aims are implemented across Scotland in a safe, effective and person-centred way.

As you can imagine, the role is extremely broad, but the ultimate goal is to improve the effectiveness and quality of illness prevention, diagnosis, treatment and follow-up care for the people of Scotland.

The Scottish Government’s 2020 Vision for health and care is that everyone in Scotland is able to live longer healthier lives at home, or in a homely setting. The potential of digital health technology is recognised across the world.

In Scotland, our strategy is to take an incremental and evidence based approach that uses digital technology to help ensure that individuals get the right care, involving the right practitioners, at the right time, in order to deliver the right outcomes.

What do you consider to be the most imminent challenge in your line of work?

NHS Scotland has undertaken some recent significant initiatives and procurements that have led to greater rationalisation and more joining up of systems and services within and across health boards, but much still needs to be done, particularly in integrating health and social care services.

The most imminent challenge is being able to balance scarce resources between two overarching requirements. On the one hand, we need to ensure what is already in place is fully resilient and meets increasing demands, focusing on integrating existing systems and filling key functionality gaps to increase the efficiency of current processes.

On the other hand, we need to embrace the opportunities offered by digital technologies and be more innovative and ambitious, and commit to projects that have the potential to be transformative.

What has been the most rewarding piece of work you've undertaken?

Rather than single out a particular project, I would say that the most rewarding aspect of my role is working with the CIOs and their teams, and health and care professionals who work at the frontline of service delivery. Their leadership, commitment and absolute passion for improvement is the bedrock of delivering our strategic aims.

Our collective approach harnesses the resource, knowledge and expertise that exists around NHS Scotland and brings it together in the form of governance groups that drive forward delivery. I am fortunate that the CIOs for all 22 health boards voluntarily meet monthly to collectively address tactical and strategic issues.

How can Scotland bridge the digital skills gap?

Scotland has in place a number of key initiatives that will go a long way to closing the gaps in terms of increasing digital inclusion and growing a world-class digital workforce. For example, Skills Development Scotland are leading the way by investing in novel marketing approaches to encourage many more people to consider a career in Scotland's digital sector.

I believe that the health and care sector can be a particular attraction to young people to establish a “digital” career, as well as to those who may already be digital professionals working elsewhere and in other fields.

A recent survey highlighted that one in four UK adults currently use digital technologies to self-diagnose; that the internet is the first port of call for medical advice, and that the UK is second in the world after USA for use of online self-diagnosis. Scotland now has a number of health-related innovation centres that aim to encourage the development of innovative uses of digital technology and data analytics.

Scotland’s size and our ability to bring together leaders from health and care, industry and academia to focus on key challenges is something we need to continue to market across the world. I now know many digital professionals working in NHS Scotland and each one does so because the work is stimulating and because they are making a clear contribution to improving the quality of healthcare services for others.

Which new technology excites you the most?

I actually try to not get too excited by new technology.  What excites me is seeing technology delivering tangible results in real-life situations – to patients and to health and care workers.  For example, I get immense satisfaction when I see examples of people’s wellbeing being improved, even in some small way, from using consumer tablet devices to access health and care information and engage dynamically with their health and care providers.

But, I guess if I had to single out a single thing then it would be the possibilities offered for illness prevention, and diagnosis and treatment improvement, from data analytics. We have a wealth of information held in digital form in Scotland – possibly the most extensive in the world for some conditions – and with appropriate safeguards on confidentiality we should be able to apply natural language processing and data analytics to provide insights that were previously beyond us.

Scotland has the potential to be a worldwide centre of excellence in this field.  

What's your favourite app and why?

A tricky one. In the a health context I would highlight the Sepsis app, which incorporates a National Early Warning Scoring System calculator. It has been developed in Scotland for clinicians and designed by clinicians. Every three to four seconds someone dies of Sepsis and this app provides immediate guidance to the clinician to aid the decision-making process.

Reducing the mortality rates from Sepsis is one of the priority areas of the Scottish Patient Safety Programme and this app has been developed to support increased awareness of Sepsis and Sepsis screening amongst clinical staff.

On a personal level, I could not be without the public transport “live” tracker apps I have loaded on my personal smartphone. In particular the one that alerts me that I have 10 minutes to run from St Andrew’s House to Waverley Station to catch my train home.

What, for you, will 2016 be the year of from a technology/digital standpoint?

Again, in the health and care context, we will see greater use of apps, coupled with wearable technology, that will let people better manage their lifestyles and health. But I think the real advances will be less obvious and will be in the areas of genomics and stratified medicine through advanced data analytics.

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