The evident fast track in Digital Transformation across the Healthcare Sectors – Insights from the Odgers Interim Healthcare Practice
SJ Leatherdale, Partner and Head of our Healthcare & Life Sciences Practice, spoke to Zoe Spalding, Resourcer at Odgers Interim, about the exciting possibilities across the healthcare and life sciences sectors as we enter the post-pandemic economy
Zoe: Considering the challenging times, what are the greatest opportunities you see across your sector and what changes have you observed in the past 12 months?
SJ: Great question! As we all know the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on both the nation and our healthcare system has been extraordinary. Evidently no healthcare service in the world could have truly predicted nor prepared for the scale and velocity to the magnitude we have all witnessed. We can all firmly unite in acknowledging that the dedication and sheer determination, combined with the truly exceptional spirit and hardworking nature of our NHS & Care Home staff and, of course, what the wider Healthcare Industry sector has collaboratively provided, has without a shadow of a doubt, been astounding.
When I look at the workforce gaps, unquestionably it has been an obvious case of all hands-on deck, certainly for substantive employees, but also the call for interim & consultancy support. There has been huge demand for interim management expertise to provide additional capacity during the past year; from supporting the track and trace programme, to the mobilisation of the vaccination rollout. As we enter the recovery phase, the focus is now on the restoration of key services, and interim leaders will need to work with stakeholders across the health and social care system to address the longest waiting times the service has witnessed to date. We have recruited a variety of roles to support the response to Covid, from organisational re-design to the trusted functional roles of finance, from communications, and technology to estates, from operational management and strategic marketing to commercial development executives, and transformation directors.
Healthcare has borne witness to a fundamental, one could say welcomed, step change with the acceleration of digital platforms to enable innovation, whether that be virtual healthcare via telemedicine or AI enabled medical devices– promoting and reinforcing the need to streamline, improve and personalise the patient experience, whilst ultimately lowering costs through this mobile option of accessibility and possibility.
Despite the extreme restrictions one has had to adhere to - as a nation it has increasingly become more mobile and virtual “reality” dependent, with patients often preferring a more on-demand healthcare system to fit increasingly busy, constrained and mobile lifestyles. Wearable fitness, medical device tech, and mobile fitness apps have been growing in popularity for some time, being even more “on demand” with the 5G mobile technology. This adoption of self-monitoring allows patients to actively engage more in their own health and wellbeing.
We also saw the introduction of telemedicine, video examinations and remote monitoring. These processes have highlighted the advantages of a more mobile and virtual healthcare provision, with the rapid acceleration of policies and processes that previously saw only incremental progress. As I highlighted previously, the shift from focusing on the costing & time frames to a continuous mindset of delivery against the value for patients is fundamental. It is evident, clinicians who may previously have been cautious about digital healthcare saw an almost overnight transition to remote and virtual appointments to evaluate and support patients – fast-tracking once again the adoption of virtual/digital service delivery. We all know this will only increase and be more refined over the coming months and years ahead.
That said, digital/virtual healthcare is not without its challenges. The issue of how to engage with patients effectively is challenging, a possible lack of access to digital devices or the costs of phone triages will undoubtably isolate some patients. This is when reviewing the appropriate medical attention for the patients, the clinicians, CIOs and healthcare executives will be acutely mindful of these challenges, and therefore need to simplify in order to assess the software needed to deliver these potential obstacles.
But as we all hope and look to a new dawn of response to the pandemic, I am not going to utter the words “when the pandemic is over”, as this is a fantastic optimism we all seek. And why not, given the vaccines rates are being rolled out at brilliant levels, communities are adhering to the governments four-step roadmap and the “return” to a normality of such, is almost within our reach. We must not forget that there is still a huge backlog within healthcare where interim executives will be required to re-establish these healthcare services, restoring A&E, RTT and cancer waiting times, moving on those strategic plans and the transformation, whilst upholding the initiatives introduced in response to the pandemic - and let us not forget the vast integration agenda with the ICS’s.
Zoe: How has the delivery for an assignment changed?
SJ: Whilst many operational roles have continued to require onsite working, other roles have been successfully managed remotely – this has opened endless possibilities for many interim managers, where previously the location may have been a no-go. The enablement of the virtual platform has been superb from a staffing perspective, with NHS organisations having better access to in-demand and hard to recruit positions they previously may have struggled to appointed to. This has also had a positive impact on diversity when it has come to recruitment, for example those with disabilities have been able to work from home successfully.
I cannot see waving goodbye to Zoom or MS Teams, this is the new go-to (I do not like to use the word ‘normal’) and has been working to such an advantage with phenomenal productivity so why lose it? An evident flexible approach is to remain, with terrific results courtesy of this digitally enabled age.
Zoe: What can Interim candidates do to maximise their chances of a successful placement?
SJ: The upskill is paramount, interim managers have had to do this like no other – it starts with the virtual interview: terribly obvious, but please make sure your WIFI is strong and position yourself in the middle of your camera screen. Reading the body language of your audience is vital, as well as the emotional cues. Maintaining appropriate eye contact, trying not to talk over one another, and do not forget to not continually look at yourself as a thumb nail bottom left!
Zoe: And what should interims consider when they secure a new role?
SJ: Managing small and larger teams virtually is no easy task, especially when considering the past year has been the most challenging yet for the NHS workforce. Compassionate leadership will now be critical, and interim leaders need to invest time in getting to know their team, colleagues, key stakeholders, as well as what is required of the assignment.
For healthcare, I truly believe there will always be a need for interim resource, and that extra capacity is an unrivalled offering for future challenges – the recovery and restoration of services will be key to this. We will also see increased requirements for Programme and Project Managers/Directors to help deliver the ambitions on the NHS White Paper released earlier this year, with the continued evolution of key programmes of work across not only the public sector, but industry too.
Covid-19 has highlighted how strong and resilient a healthcare system is when having to adapt and react to crisis, which further supports the importance of integrated care, that major collaborative piece, which I am sure we will continue to see grow in strength.
If you would like to find out more about our Healthcare and Life Sciences Practice, or discuss anything mentioned in this article, please do not hesitate to contact SJ Leatherdale.