In Conversation With Melissa Andison, Associate Chief Clinical Information Officer - Surrey and Borders Partnership

 

A registered occupational therapist and a Clinician, Melissa has a lot of experience working in different areas of practice from acute, ward-based practice to occupational therapy from out of her front room.

In 2013, Melissa had her first opportunity as a clinician to get involved with a project that sought to develop an app that allowed integration with electronic patient records.

“They were looking for clinicians to run some workshops and spend time with software engineers to think about how this solution could be developed in a way that supported our way of working.”

This was Melissa’s first opportunity to look at how technology could be used to enable smarter, more efficient working.

“I think what really grabbed my attention was when we started to think about the digital tools we were using in our personal lives but weren't necessarily having that same experience in our professional lives. It was a very exciting opportunity to learn a lot about project management, design and user experience.” 

That experience served as the catalyst for Melissa’s passion for digital transformation at the highest levels of healthcare. From there, Melissa volunteered to be involved with as many digital transformation projects as possible from electronic patient record systems to just generally working more closely with IT teams around systems. 

At the time there was a bit of a working renaissance happening in London. Many digital health networking groups, that specialised in the merging of clinical practice and digital technology, were cropping up and Melissa was keen to find time to be a part of them all.

“It was through the networks that actually learnt a lot and met new people, and gave me different ideas about as a clinician, what could I do to invest in my career to have different opportunities. And that's where I learned about the digital health summer school.” 

Melissa explains that digital health summer schools are a fantastic place to learn and network with like-minded colleagues.  Everyone with a range of challenges and how that affects digital health. While there, Melissa was also exposed and inspired by the CCIO role, a role she would later step in to

Now at Surrey and Borders Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, Melissa wears many different hats including the Associate Director of Digital Health Transformation, Associate CCIO and Clinical Safety Officer for Digital Tools and Developments.

 

There Needs to be a Clinical Voice in Transformation Projects

How many projects have failed because they have been unable, or unwilling, to take into account the voices of end-users? Melissa, who has worked at the clinical level, this is an all too familiar experience. 

“When solutions don’t land the way you want them to, or there is little uptake, it’s usually down to the fact that the people designing it isn’t living and breathing the experience of the problem.”

Under the motto of ‘people before technology’ Surrey and Borders has pushed for a ‘human-first’ approach to digital transformation and has pioneered the development of in-house design teams that can work in conjunction with experts who live the problems that need solving.

“We need to understand your needs, we need to research that with you and develop together.” 

For Melissa, who has been through the process of putting herself forward to be part of these digital health projects for the last 8 years, believes there is still more to be done to get clinical leadership involved at the highest level of change. 

“This can’t be a tokenistic role, we need to think about the product, the process and even the language you use. We’re very familiar with concepts of co-design and co-development. Volunteering and demonstrating on these projects has proven that there is value for everyone in these projects when we all work together.”

 

Understanding Your Strengths

Melissa, who was sponsored by Surrey and Borders to take part in a Womens Digital Leaders programme , understands the power of knowing your own strengths and that of the people around you. An incredibly empowering experience, going through these processes didn’t just enable Melissa to recognise her strengths, but also helped fuel her up for continual development. 

“It put the fire back into my belly.”

The programme uses the Clifton Strengths tool, which breaks down your top 5 strengths from a possible 34, it has been helping teams understand what makes each other tick for many years now. For Melissa, it was a breakthrough moment that helped her connect with leaders regardless of discipline.

“I see projects through multiple lenses, I still see it through the clinical end-user needs and I see it from the transformation perspective around new ways of working and how we embed that what we need to do, I also can bring to the table now thinking around the safety options of using technology, in healthcare. And with my experience, I'm also thinking now around what does that mean for you know, information and security.” 

Although it’s never easy to recognise your own strength and experiences, it’s certainly been a key factor in Melissa’s discovery of her voice. 

 

Building A Diverse Team

Melissa is the fourth member of her team to have gone through the Digital Health Academy helping the team understand they can’t survive or thrive as a digital team if they don’t invest in the breadth of knowledge, experiences and skills in the digital health space. 

“There is absolute merit in different voices, different disciplines, different backgrounds. I think that's what makes us unique and different, as a digital Directorate for an organisation”

Embracing the diversity of thought in their team has done more than elevate the standards of work produced, it has also created a space where everyone feels welcome and can benefit from the vast amounts of experience and knowledge.

“Today our Chief Digital Information Officer, Toby Avery was talking to us about the role of ethics in our decision making.. We’ve appointed a Chief Digital Data Ethics Officer, but what does that mean? How can we champion ethics in our clinical records, practices and processes? How can we develop technology to support that? These are really exciting conversations that we have really tried to create space for in our leadership team.”

Lifelong Learning

For those looking to follow in Melissa’s footsteps and carve out a career in the transformation space, Melissa has this advice: 

“It’s lifelong learning. We need to keep our knowledge and skills sharp so we can adapt quickly. So, it’s about finding the right learning opportunities for yourself. For me, that was investing in some leadership skills that helped me be comfortable with who I am and what I can bring.”

Bernadette Clarke

Divisional Contract Director

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