Digital Healthcare at Defence Medical Services
Providing high quality healthcare support to HM Armed Forces, whenever and wherever it is required, presents a continuous challenge given the global mobility of military personnel. HM Armed Forces’ needs are both diverse and numerous, ranging from serving infantry needing to consult urgently and virtually with their General Practitioners in the UK, to clinicians overseas performing surgery and medical procedures in often extremely challenging and austere environments, where access to fundamentals such as the internet cannot be taken for granted. Such challenges call for fresh thinking and different approaches to how healthcare support is provided to those who take pride in keeping our country safe from harm.
As the organisation entrusted with this responsibility by the Ministry of Defence, we are rising to the challenge. Defence Medical Services’ approach is both pioneering and pragmatic, focusing on those digital, data and technology innovations which have the potential to directly enhance patient care across the diverse services we deliver, including primary healthcare, dental care, rehabilitation, occupational medicine, community mental healthcare and specialist medical care. Exploiting the new capabilities afforded by digital technology and approaches is central to our approach. As Dr Peter Homa, Director General, Defence Medical Services states, “key to success is working collaboratively with Defence Digital to fully exploit new MoD wide capabilities delivered by ‘Programme CORTISONE’. Of equal importance, however, is supporting frontline operations, with tactical technology solutions to address unique and often urgent, rapidly unfolding clinical scenarios”.
We are currently undertaking significant organisational, people, process and technology change throughout the whole of Defence Medical Services in order to continue our evolution towards becoming Defence’s Occupational Healthcare delivery organisation for the Information Age. Significant improvements in digital enablement, business intelligence, clinical informatics, knowledge and information management maturity are being pursued in order to ensure that we become a truly patient focused, digital and data driven organisation. Programme CORTISONE will play a key underpinning role, providing an essential new platform for exemplary patient care and clinical excellence, not only in providing a strong foundation for digital innovation, but also to enable enhanced data capability. With our tri-service mandate, global interoperability, single patient view, self-service and easy access to secure, trusted data are shared goals.
Defence Digital, also part of Strategic Command, is our delivery partner, responsible for supporting both day-to-day Live Services and a range of strategic programmes, including Programme CORTISONE. CORTISONE’S aim is to deliver a sustainable, integrated, cohesive and enduring information capability that will fully and effectively support the delivery of evidence-based medical and dental health and healthcare outputs. It will deliver an ecosystem of Healthcare Information Services to enable better patient outcomes and contribute to Defence Medical Services resource optimisation, to maximise the number of personnel fit for role for Defence. Different healthcare providers need different tools to manage their information, so the CORTISONE ecosystem will provide an interconnected network of products and services based on common standards, to meet the needs of different types of users, rather than a ‘one size fits all’ approach.
Field Based Medicine
With the medical profession underpinned by a vast range of specialists, taking huge teams covering every discipline away on deployment would be impossible. But a combination of the latest communications and augmented reality tech means clinicians well behind the front line can now be involved in medical procedures. As Lieutenant Colonel Oli Bartels, Project Leader of award winning ‘Project Lara’ notes, “the further forward in the battlefield you go, the more that individual medic may need support”.
The award-winning Project Lara has been looking at how cameras can potentially be mounted either on, or around, a surgeon to provide a first person view of the operation they are performing. Their perspective can be beamed to colleagues with more experience of the procedure being carried out, who can offer real time expertise. Vital information, such as where to look, can even be beamed directly onto the lenses of special glasses worn by the surgeon to give them extra confidence. Other innovations currently being trialled include a ‘just for MoD’ secure messaging system, particularly beneficial to the military orthopaedic specialists, who use it to rapidly transfer X-ray pictures to fellow professionals, and a system that remotely monitors and streams patients’ vital signs to experts.
The CDIO Appointment
Defence Medical Services’ imminent appointment of a new Chief Digital Information Officer will play a key role in realising our digital, data and technology ambitions. The new CDIO will be required to bring both exceptional digital, data and technology leadership strength, alongside substantial experience of delivering a step change in capability in a clinical environment. Operating at DMS ExCo and Senior Leadership level, this will be a highly collaborative and inclusive role that will involve influencing and working with diverse groups of colleagues throughout the MoD to effect positive change.
It is an exciting time to join, given the substantial investment in digital, data and technology change in the sector. Sarah Winmill, CIO, Business Functions who joined the MoD in January 2019 is deeply enthusiastic about the opportunities available to DDaT leaders and is excited about working with a creative new CDIO who will help to respond to substantial sector appetite for innovation from day one. New to the sector a year ago, Sarah is thriving in her role, describing it as a fascinating and welcoming environment in which she feels highly valued and enjoys working with some of the most intellectually capable people she has ever worked with.
Sarah believes that the new CDIO role will be a highly influential one which will deliver substantial clinical impact through pushing the boundaries of technology to achieve what has previously seemed impossible in the most challenging of environments; not only to support wellness but also to enable the most challenging of military operations. Sarah understands traditional pre-conceptions relating to the lack of diversity in a sector that she admits wouldn’t necessarily have appealed to her earlier in her career. Her own personal experience however, has been an extremely inclusive and positive one. She is proud to work with outstanding colleagues in an important sector in which there is a genuine opportunity to have an impact: “together we will be delivering an audacious programme of work…it’s an opportunity to do something extraordinary”.