Tech in the NHS: why we never underestimate the human factor

The technical wizardry that fuels our workforce technology is unrivalled. It might sound like an exaggeration, but the technology we’ve built is so innovative that we take steps to guard its secrets. After all, it’s already saving trusts millions – and we’ve only just begun.

But all that cleverness can sometimes overshadow the human side of what we do, or as we call it, the human factor. So, we’re careful to never underestimate its importance.

As we’ve quickly discovered, technology doesn’t get very far in the NHS if it doesn’t come with the human touch.

The challenge of implementing new technology

With annual budgets currently increasing by around half as much as they have traditionally, the NHS is inevitably overstretched and overworked. As a result, many trusts have seen the prospect of new technology as lower on the priority list. This is especially apparent because of the time it often takes for staff to learn and implement any new technology.

But this entirely understandable fear of change is misguided. As the former health secretary Alan Milburn stated in a recent Guardian piece, saving the NHS isn’t just about money. It’s about technology and innovation in every aspect of what a trust does.

Security is a barrier that was brought into greater focus because of last year’s cyber-attack. Money is an even more obvious challenge – the perceived risk of investing in something that could deliver future savings. But arguably, it’s the human challenge that stands out.

Nowhere to hide in the digital age

The NHS is often tied into legacy systems that are neither flexible nor intuitive. This is particularly noticeable in our area of expertise: workforce technology. Legacy e-rostering tools are difficult to use at the best of times, but when a multi-disciplinary team needs to be assembled quickly, or the software needs to be integrated with other systems across different locations, they become unworkable.

Meanwhile, digital advances such as the Model Hospital are finally starting to get to grips with the enormous amount of data available in the NHS. And in particular, the Model Hospital is shining a light on huge disparities in efficiencies from one trust to the next.

This is big data at work, and it will spell big change in the NHS. And the disparities it will uncover stretch across every aspect of the NHS, including how bank and agency staff are managed, recruited and rostered.

So while there are barriers to technological change, these will have to be removed. The question is: how can trusts implement the kind of behavioural change needed to make technological change possible?

Technology that’s human – and backed by humans

When we built Clarity – and as we continually improve and adapt it for different trusts – we took a different approach to the legacy rostering systems typically in place.

Our technology is built from a user-first perspective. At every stage of testing and development, users – whether they’re roster managers or bank nurses – were front and centre. We decided, quite simply, that if it didn’t work for them, it didn’t work. It had to be as intuitive as the everyday technology they use elsewhere in their lives, and nothing less would do. It’s human technology – technology that avoids the clunky steps inherent in legacy systems.

But even more importantly, we built implementation and service teams whose job it is to overcome behavioural barriers. Whether on site or remotely, they make sense of the technology with training sessions and dedicated support. An account manager is on hand to solve problems, and to remove any complexity and jargon.

And finally, we proactively work on staff engagement. We understand that any system is only as successful as the people who manage it. So we work to engage people – to explain the benefits, the features and why it’s worth the time and the effort.

Technology can improve the NHS. But for human-backed technology, the sky’s the limit.

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To see for yourself how easy our systems are to use and implement, why not book a demo?


Irina Buzdugan