Why digital clinical safety matters to everyone

As NHSX publishes the first ever Digital Clinical Safety Strategy, Dr Sarah El-Sheikha, Clinical Advisor at NHSX and Anaesthetic Registrar, and Holly Carr, Florence Nightingale Digital Leadership Fellow, discuss why we all need to understand digital safety, and the risks and benefits to patient care.

A doctor’s perspective

Sarah El-Sheikha

As a doctor, patient safety is core to my practice. When I anaesthetise a patient for an operation, my primary aim is to act in the best interest of my patient and proactively take steps to prevent avoidable harm. Unfortunately, however hard we try, not everything is perfect. We live in a world full of risk, and within health care this risk can have significant consequences.

When I first came across the concept of digital clinical safety, I wasn’t really sure what it meant or how it was relevant to me. I have learned that it is about making sure that products, pathways and processes with digital components are appropriately risk assessed, and that safety risks have been minimised to prevent harm

Digital clinical safety means that as a doctor, when I use a digital product I know that someone with expertise has provided a thorough assessment. It also means that if I recognise a problem, I am reassured that by raising it through the appropriate channels it will be reviewed and acted upon.

COVID-19 has created the drive accelerated digital transformation. Even though digital provides huge potential for the NHS, we need to ensure that we are always acting in the best interests of our patients. Failing to be proactive and ignoring the importance of digital safety makes us vulnerable. As someone who is passionate about providing the best possible care for my patients, I am proud that the digital clinical safety strategy provides the structure to future proof our NHS to ensure digital safety is given the focus it deserves.

A nurse's perspective

Holly Carr

While patient safety has always been seen as an integral part of nursing practice, the application of this fundamental capability in the digital landscape has not. As a frontline nurse who was new to digital, I was often made to feel that digital clinical safety was not my responsibility or remit. With limited access to training, I found it difficult to escalate risks and issues to executive and industry leaders in a manner that was impactful and garnered a proportionate level of shared concern and intervention.

Digital clinical safety refers to the avoidance of harm to patients and staff as a result of technologies manufactured, implemented and used in the health service. I feel that a digitally enabled nursing workforce must have the knowledge and skills to recognise and escalate clinical risks and issues that arise as a result of digital technology. As the largest workforce across all areas of health and social care, the primary deliverers of direct patient care and the predominant handlers of both technology and data, digital clinical safety is our responsibility too.

Clinical safety underpins every decision we make as a clinician and this should not be compromised as we move into being one of the most digitally adept healthcare services in the world. What was once seen as sole responsibility of our techy colleagues is now shared amongst the wider healthcare workforce and should be a priority for anyone who delivers direct or indirect patient care.

Having a greater knowledge of digital clinical safety has enhanced confidence in my ability to detect and escalate clinical safety risks and issues. It has also opened my mind and enhanced my ability to see the potential of digital technology as an innovative solution to a number of our big patient safety problems.

A shared priority

The strategy marks a fundamental step in future proofing the NHS. It provides the backbone for a call to action for the need for digital clinical safety. The strategy isn’t just for senior managers and safety specialists, it's for all of us who work in health and social care, providing the reassurance that safety is at the heart of innovation.

Read the Digital Clinical Safety Strategy and get in touch if you have any questions or feedback or would like to be involved in shaping implementation of the strategy. Email the team at nhsxdigitalsafety@nhsx.nhs.uk.