For better or worse my football team is Crewe Alexandra, the pride of South Cheshire. Four years ago, I went to Wembley twice in ten months to see them win a promotion and a trophy.
This season, however, has been a turgid battle, with defeat after defeat followed by ultimate humiliation. We got relegated with five matches still left to play by losing 3-0 to our arch rivals.
That was weeks ago and I still haven’t recovered. In the game that followed there was the inevitable fan protest. Asked about it after the game, our manager said: “I thought the players handled it well” and went on to describe their “professional attitude”.
He wasn’t referring to their football prowess – they still lost the match – but instead to their approach, behaviour and conduct.
What makes us professional?
I have done a lot of thinking about what it means to be professional in one’s job recently. In April, I was lucky enough to be appointed chair of the British Computer Society Health Executive, a one of the BCS’ objectives is to increase professionalism in the digital health and care arena.
This is no easy task because defining what exactly it means to be professional can often be a matter of interpretation. Mentally, I began to explore the role of a chief information officer of an NHS organisation – which is the job I do, after all – and consider what makes us professional.
Firstly, we have to be qualified for the role. By which I mean we have to hold a level of academic achievement and an accredited professional standard, as well as have some years’ experience in digital health and care.
I do not believe a CIO can count as a professional based on experience alone; even though it is really easy to believe that having done ten or more years in a job means there is nothing left to learn.
The CIO studies I undertook, initially at Cranfield University and then at Oxford and Stanford and UC Berkeley (all self-funded I hasten to add) taught me things I could not have possibly have learned sitting at my desk in Bristol.
It’s often hard for a CIO to know what qualification to undertake, though’ and there is a paucity of specialist health and care CIO courses.
That’s why I am really pleased that the BCS has begun to work with the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME), and the Health CIO network, to bring the ‘Certified Healthcare CIO’ (CHCIO) qualification to the UK.
It’s a work in progress still, but all parties remain committed to the ideal, and by summer 2016 we should see our first cohort of health CIOs – save for Rachel Dunscome (from Salford Royal) and Mark Blakeman (from Wirral Hospitals); the visionaries in the North West who took it upon themselves to lead the charge and embark on this formal qualification.
Secondly we must be experienced. Experience alone does not make one a professional CIO, but without experience you are likely to be out of your depth.
How and where you gained that experience, as well as the field in which you initially specialised, varies a lot; but the fact that you have that experience is crucial.
I began life as an information analyst, so I always feel a little stronger on the business intelligence agenda than I maybe do on the deeply technical. But over the years I have gained a lot of experience and, with the support of a great team, can more than hold my own in that space, too. That is experience.
Thirdly, we must adhere to professional standards. It’s pretty obvious stuff, but unless we religiously think, act, talk and even dress like a professional then we cannot be surprised if we do not get treated as one.
Lastly and crucially, we must be visible, both inside and outside our organisation. There was a time when the CIO – the most senior digital person in an organisation – could sit happily in their office, overseeing their ‘technical realm.’
They would not have to worry about the rest of the service or what was happening across our industry sector. That time is history; and it is simply not acceptable for a health and care CIO to remain locked away in this way.
At the very minimum we should be visible to our organisation, aligning ourselves to the key clinical leaders, being best friends with the director of finance and comfortable and confident in regular seeking an audience at board level.
But this is a minimum, because I also believe the CIO needs to be visible beyond the organisation. Firstly, as an active participant in the development of the local digital roadmaps that healthcare communities have been asked to produce.
But more than that as an active participant in the development of national strategy. We are now working in a digital health and care sector in which our national bodies are actively seeking our advice and support to help them to help us.
If you are not engaging in this space, you are letting a great opportunity pass and missing the chance to give yourself and your organisation a profile and voice. A professional CIO would not miss this chance. So are you taking it?
Time to step up
The future success of digital health and care rests with the professional attitude, approach and working relationship of the ‘C team’. The triangular ‘C’ team of chief executive officer, chief clinical information officer and chief information officer within our organisations.
Our CEOs have a professional status, but often lack our digital vision and nouse. Our CCIOs, about to get a huge boost in professional status thanks to Bob Wachter’s review, have insight into the needs of the health and care system and the impact of new technology, but welcome our digital industry savvy.
As CIOs, we have to professionally take our place in this team. We have to step up to the mark and ensure our profession is professional.
I plan to be part of the first cohort of CHCIO students. I want the badge that shows I am professional qualified. I am hoping to do this by May next year, and if the boys from Gresty Road can match my enthusiasm we might make it a double celebration. Up the Alex!!!
Andy Kinnear will be jointly running a workshop on the collaboration on the Certified Health CIO qualification on day two of the Health CIO Summer School, 13-14 July, University of Leeds.
The Health CIO Network is publishing a handbook for chief information officers and others in digital leadership roles. One of the chapters already published covers leadership and good leadership behaviour; watch out for more chapters over the coming weeks.