Katherine Church, Chief Digital Officer, Surrey Heartlands Integrated Care System
Using tech for good, designing the NHS app and encouraging females into Digital
“Tech for Good,” is Katherine Church’s mantra. “I always wanted to change the world” she says. Katherine initially trained as a social worker but soon realised that changing the world was not the remit of social workers so went to work for a major recruitment agency, building their health practice, their first CRM and website. This triggered a passion for digital and the potential to change business outcomes through the intelligent application of tech to complex problems.
Katherine is the Chief Digital Officer for Surrey Heartlands ICS. She explains: “We’re working across complex organisations, to devise programmes of digital work to link the customer journey so that people don't fall between the gaps of care sectors."
"Take online banking ... people are happy to transact online rather than stand in a queue in a bank"
Katherine has worked in digital for twenty-five years and joined the NHS two years ago. In business, customer service and administration has been outsourced back to the customer, putting them in charge of their experience. "It's so much more efficient," she confirms. "Faster, more accurate. Take online banking, for example. People are happy to transact online rather than stand in a queue in a bank.
"Imagine if we were able to apply that paradigm across the NHS. Imagine a population that monitors its own health, takes its own corrective action, uses chatbots and virtual consultations as part of a multi-channel model of health.
"We could all live and die the ends of life we choose, supported by tech in our homes."
"Imagine a population that accesses the high street, retail pharmacies, libraries for preventative self-care and only ever goes to A&E if there are no other services which could do the job. Hospitals would only exist for complex operations or intensive care and we could all live and die the ends of life we choose, supported by tech in our homes.“
A key current foundational block is enabling citizens with a safe and secure digital identity and means of accessing health online. The NHS app will enable patients to book appointments with GPs, request repeat prescriptions, undertake routine monitoring of their conditions. Hopefully this can be extended to viewing and changing hospital appointments, doing pre-hospital checks and getting diagnostic results.
Katherine adds: "We have a huge backlog of elective work to get through, If we could digitise 30% of routine contacts, declutter admin and integrate the core systems we use to manage processes, we could focus on the people we need to see the most. Doing more with same resources will increase throughput."
"The top of the IT digital tree is female"
She points out that there are more women in IT leadership roles than in other sectors. “Look at Sonia Patel, Tara Donnelly and Ming Tang,” she says. “The top of the IT digital tree is female. There are also amazing women like Lisa Emery and Monica Jones doing amazing work."
STEM subjects, she thinks, should be compulsory throughout schooling, and teaching materials designed to appeal to girls as much as boys, overcoming the self imposed barriers which young women create. She also believes in separate learning spaces, away from boys, so that girls can experiment, collaborate and make mistakes without feeling intimidated.
"What you need to be is an expert in humanity!"
To be a leader in digital, Katherine is sure that you don't have to be a technical genius. No-one understands all the complex aspects of every digital, IT and design discipline. “I'm a digital orchestra conductor,” she laughs. “I know how to read music. I play a couple of instruments. But you wouldn't ask a conductor whether they were an expert pianist, violinist and trumpet player, would you? What you need to be is an expert in humanity!”
Genevieve Shaw, Editor