As staff and services feel the strain, digital leaders and teams are stepping up. Penny Kechagioglou, a speaker on the Leadership and Teams stage at Rewired in March, tells Digital Health News how digital leaders make a real difference

At a time when the NHS is grappling with record elective waiting lists, it might be tempting for digital leaders to take a relatively low profile. After all, do staff who are already stretched to the limit want to hear about digital innovation?

But as consultant oncologist and CCIO Penny Kechagioglou (pictured, above) tells Digital Health News (see Q&A, below) digital leaders have a “heightened responsibility” during hard times and a great deal to offer. Their “unique” leadership skills spanning different health disciplines can “sustain motivation and keep teams together”, she says.

Kechagioglou, who is based at University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire NHS Trust, will be joining the opening session of Rewired’s Leadership and Teams stage, ‘Leading digital programmes under intense pressure’. It will be an opportunity to hear how trusts have implemented digital systems to their under-pressure workforces and hear reflections on patient journeys from an NHS clinical informatics team.

Other highlights include a keynote session on international digital transformation, with contributions from digital leaders in Portugal and New Zealand, as well as the UK.

One HealthTech Manchester will explain how to increase leadership diversity in digital health in the NHS. There will  also be a session looking ahead to the emerging challenges for the next generation of health CIOs and CTOs.

A highlight of day two looks set to be a masterclass on leading digital change at scale, by NHS England’s CIO, John Quinn.

Another session will present three complementary perspectives on building effective collaborative digital teams, including a board-level view of collective leadership for digital transformation and an exploration of the role of junior doctors as CMIOs.

The Rewired ‘big debate’, with Accurx co-founder and CEO Jacob Haddad, will ask whether we need to be much more radical about using digital to transform healthcare. Where are the promised benefits of EPR investments? Should digital be doing more than ‘smoothing’ points of friction? It should be a lively debate.

Digital Health News: How can you best support teams to improve their performance? What really makes a difference?

Penny Kechagioglou: We can make a difference by creating a culture of psychological safety, where we can challenge each other within a team in a positive way and keep ourselves accountable for our performance and delivery.

[We can also] coach teams to identify the ‘why’ and ‘how’ of improving performance, support teams in identifying and overcoming barriers, and motivate and empower teams to find solutions. Small and consistent improvements are more likely to be sustained.

The NHS is under huge pressure to deliver elective recovery against a background of staffing shortages and a tough funding climate. How is this pressure affecting digital leaders?

There is a sense of heightened responsibility amongst digital leaders to navigate the complexities of new technologies, educate others and lead the evaluation, adoption and scale of new tech which can benefit the society and add value.

Can digital leaders and teams make a key difference to services and staff under pressure?

Digital leadership skills are unique in that they often span different health disciplines and enable the bridging of the gap between clinical, analytics and operational staff, bringing them together and working towards common purpose. By doing so, they sustain motivation and keep teams together – which is important when under pressure.

What do doctors bring to digital leadership roles? Have they enough influence and is their role changing as digital systems mature?

Doctors manage a complex amount of data which they have to analyse and communicate to colleagues and patients. Their ability to appraise the risks and benefits of clinical systems, identify clinical risk and the ethics of decision-making, makes them ideal for digital leadership roles. It is important that more doctors take up board level digital positions, so that they use their clinical and analytical skills to influence change and make impactful decisions.

What are you most looking forward to at Rewired?

I am looking forward to networking with colleagues and meeting new people who are ambitious to make a real difference in healthcare through digital.

Rewired 2024 is at the Birmingham NEC, March 12-13. Find out more about the Leadership and Teams Stage, explore the programme, and register here.