Thursday, March 19, 2015

Effective Leadership in ICT Innovation for Healthcare

On Wednesday 18th March 2015 we held a workshop on Effective Leadership in ICT Innovation for Healthcare at Royal Holloway University (Egham) (see workshop agenda). The workshop was funded by BAM Researcher Development Grant as part of our research project on CCGs and telehealth. Panel discussions with eminent experts from academia, the industry and the health care sector triggered engaging and productive discussions among all participants. ICT-enabled innovation in the health sector requires collaborative leadership that cuts across professional and organisational boundaries. Yet, in the implementation of IT-enabled health service innovation like telehealth, this type of leadership model can be difficult to achieve. The objective of the workshop was to discuss the major challenges to effective leadership to IT innovations in the health sector and how these challenges can be tackled theoretically and practically. In particular, the workshop aimed to create synergies and exchange of ideas between the academic and practitioners' communities, the latter including both providers of technology solutions and members of health care organizations, in order to deliver better research impact.

Many ideas and issues were discussed in the workshop and only a few are summarised in this post. First, challenges to leaders in managing complex ICT initiatives arise from the contextual pressures of achieving better quality health care with less resources and fragmented governance and decision-making mechanisms within organisations. In this scenario, standardised procedures and centralised governance structures could help leaders managing change better. An important point is how leaders should prevent too much change from being imposed. Change initiatives can be a burden, particularly for overstretched and small organisations in the health service, such as community care providers and General Practices. So leaders should identify struggling organisations and help them solve their organisational constraints to innovation.

Effective leadership in ICT innovation in health care needs to be exercised at all levels of the organisation. There seems to be a disconnect between leaders at the top and leaders at the front-end services. In particular, political accountability at the top is not effective in committing leaders to create health service efficiencies through innovation. The result is that leaders driving innovation in health care organisations, often, do not feel supported by the top management. It is also important not to over-emphasise collaborative leadership. On the one hand hybrid professionals play a great facilitating role across boundaries. Yet, leaders’ over-identification with an ICT project can create barriers to its diffusion.

Leaders of ICT-enabled innovation also need tools and information that tells them what is the right direction to take and that help them evaluate their effort. Simplified forecasting and simulation tools have a great potential in supporting small health care organisations leaders in making decisions about how resources could be better allocated to cope with future service demand. Too often innovative leaders have to battle to demonstrate the value of IT-enabled care and win scepticism. In a context where health economics indicators drive health sector policy, better care to the patient need to be accompanied by cost-savings.  In this respect, collaboration between health care professionals and researchers can lead to definition of evaluation models that are more practice-based and, therefore, better targeted towards the needs of IT-enabled service providers and users.

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