Clinicians innovating with tech is like teen sex, everyone’s talking about, few do it.

Sitting down with a coffee whilst skimming through my LinkedIn and Twitter feed has become a morning ritual for me. It’s a great way to get pumped for the day. Many clinicians and NHS academics share articles about big data, coding and how the future of clinical innovation with bright with tech. But before you think healthcare is going to shoot off into the space age in 2017 remember, it’s like watching a motivational video to pump you up. Statements like you can achieve anything you put your mind to can get you feeling good about starting. But think about it for a second and you’ll quickly realize it’s just not true. We keep watching because it’s not harmful to get into a positive attitude. However, following statements like this religiously can be dangerous. You only have to see some of the crazy auditions on X-factor where they dedicate their lives to singing, pour tons of resources and pass on opportunities because they are clinging to the notion that you should never give up and not let people tell you what you can’t do. Believing this McDonalds style philosophy (quick easy hit but dangerous if you have too much of it) can damage lives. The same has to be said for clinicians innovating.

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Whilst I know the morning dose of clinical tech is hype there was one comment under a post that rang home for me. I had to reply. It’s simplistic nature just hit a nerve. He flatly said: we should see more innovation led by clinicians. I had to reply: where is the support? I myself went back and completed a physics degree. I am still pulling clinical shifts whilst coding and I am now completing an MSc in physics and engineering in medicine at UCL. Did I receive any support from the NHS to foster innovation? No. I know an emergency medicine reg who is completing his physics degree. He can code in Java, he’s preparing to make the jump to finance simply because he has stonewalled again and again when he has tried to apply his coding skills to clinical innovation. Another friend of mine was a nurse. He completed 3 masters, finishing his physics degree, can also code and is completing his PhD in computational biology. He has left and not come back. He has no intention of ever setting foot in a hospital again. When he left he was asked by his boss not to leave. However, his boss offered him nothing for his extra skills, no extra responsibility, no support, no opportunities to use his skills. It was not a tough choice for him.

To highlight the full extent of the clinician tech hype whilst people like me are getting zero support from the NHS, our department was visited by one of the clinical fellows who was being fully funded to complete his leadership project. Sounds exciting right? I mean what revolutionary thing was this clinical fellow doing to get this level of support from the NHS? He was visiting departments and asking the people who worked there if the words on the NHS trust logo truly represented our values. This was done under an “innovative” scheme fully funded by the NHS. There you have it. If you want to push tech innovation you will have to do it yourself. You will have to work hard to find others who have the same drive, desire, and skills and you will have to work alongside your clinical duties with zero support from the NHS. This may seem like a negative conclusion. I would forgive you if you just thought I was moaning. However, it depends on how you’re looking at it. What this tells you is that this is still a high-risk, high-reward field. The fact that you have to push innovation yourself with zero support from the NHS will knock out a lot of the competition. When funded schemes become available in the NHS, it will become political and it will be harder to sort the pointless showcase projects from the ones that will produce meaningful change.

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