A successful implementation strategy, a network of clinical information professionals, and interoperable systems, should be the top three things on the government’s digital to-do list, according to Robert Wachter.

The US ‘digital doctor’ gave his suggestions from Texas via Skype into the Healthcare Efficiency Through Technology show in London.

He was speaking after the publication of the results of his review of NHS IT at the Health and Care Innovation Expo in Manchester earlier this month.

This urged the government relax the paperless 2020 target, but also to split NHS trusts into groups and to focus central funding on those with the potential to be global or national exemplars. It also called for a big investment in IT leadership, and the creation of many more chief clinical information officers.

Today, Wachter said the number one priority had to be getting the implementation strategy right as “the National Programme for IT took away the confidence of both the public and healthcare system that they can get technology right.”

He added: “There have to be quick wins.” Immediate benefits could be in records becoming digitalised and saving clinicians time, or through prescribing becoming less arduous, he suggested.

His second item, which he issued to Harpreet Sood, newly appointed senior fellow to the chair and chief executive of NHS England, was to create a network of CCIOs and clinical information officers. Wachter argued these people “can be bridges between technology and clinical work.”

He said the new appointments should be mentored by the new digital academy, announced in Manchester, which he said should allow specific training pathways to be created.

He added that the appointment of the former head of Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Keith McNeil, as NHS England’s first CCIO was a good move as it “sets a tone”.

McNeil has taken on a prominent role in delivering the government’s digital strategy with his move to chair the newly created Digital Delivery Board. Today, he said there was a need to act quickly to see digital maturity across the board.

Interoperability was Wachter’s third priority, although he emphasised that it needed to be built into systems from the start. Giving Manchester as an example, he said he would want to see GP practices being connected to trusts within two to three years.

The King’s Fund has warned that the government’s plan to digitally transform the NHS is at risk of losing credibility as plans and funding remain “confusing”. The report by the charity also notes that the Department of Health has yet to formally respond to the Wachter Review.

A key emphasis from the video conference was the professionalisation of the CCIO and chief information officer community. Wachter spoke about the need to increase their “credibility” and “status” within the NHS.

Members of the CCIO Network warmly welcomed the Wachter report at Expo, and supported the recommendation that a new cadre of chief clinical information officers, informatician clinicians and other IT leaders should be developed.

The changing role of the patient was also discussed as Wachter said “patients will not accept the old style of medicine”, where a healthcare professional is on a pedestal. He continued: “The democratising of healthcare is inevitable”.