Involving the people: a Norwegian perspective on introducing healthcare IT projects

Plans for a central NHS database of GP records have been reportedly delayed until September this year. The delay is to allow patients to learn more about the system. There are some huge challenges for communications ahead in explaining the system, the benefits and building the required trust and confidence.

But in one region of Norway a huge health service IT project is already underway, bringing together 65 municipalities and covering 750,000 people. I spoke to Sigrun Berge Engen, Head of Communication (Kommunikasjonssjef) for the Helseplattformen to find out what she has learnt from the work and to see how it can help the UK.

The system is the biggest IT project in Norway and will bring all health records together so that they follow the patient during any encounter they have with health professionals. It means the patient can see everything that is written about them through an app.

Sigrun explained: “We are switching off a number of systems and replacing them with one huge one. It means getting standards across all organisations. It also means health professionals writing things in language the patient can understand.”

The project has involved a huge number of stakeholders including doctors and nurses, as well as having a user panel which involves many including the Council for the Elderly and various patient organisations. She says involvement of people was the biggest learning point from the project so far.

“We have had subject matter experts and representatives from all parts of the region involved from the start. They represent all the professions and have been part of the decision making process and the evaluation of suppliers,” Sigrun added. “They are now looking at translation and configuration of the system to meet Norwegian needs and in training their peers.”

The plan is for those involved to become ambassadors when the app launches. The first area involved is the Trondheim municipality and the St Olav University Hospital plus two GP clinics due to go live in April 2022 after a six month delay due to Covid-19. It is expected that the system will be completely introduced by 2024.

Sigrun and her team have had a difficult task they will be training healthcare personnel from different organisations and different professions at the same time and in the same system. The training in new tools to improve workflows and in supporting treatment of the patient will be followed by encouraging the public to use the app.

There has been of little interest in the system from the media. They have a website and use social media, but it is the work directly with people through the involvement that has been essential.

“Involvement is the most important thing that we have done,” she added. “Involving doctors, nurses and others properly is critical as they are so fed up with having things done to them and not being able to influence it.

“It is also important to talk about digitalisation to make it less scary and help people feel safe about it. People need to understand it first otherwise it is hard to achieve progress.”

When asked about any concerns around data management and the security of the information, Sigrun explained: “There has been a huge investment in data security as an additional project. We explain to people that the information is stored in the region, not in the cloud or in the United States.”

The team expect to have some negative media coverage when the system goes live and will be focusing on using data to show the improvement and keep people looking at the big picture. Sigrun said: “You have to focus on the common good and what people get out of it, which is quality of care, fewer mistakes and avoiding information getting lost between different systems.”

And she concluded that communication had been given a high priority in the work with the communication strategy being approved by the board who recognise the crucial role it plays.

For anyone involved in the UK system – the General Practice Data for Planning and Research – the learning from Norway may provide some hints and tips on how to approach communication.

*Thanks to Sigrun for her time in explaining the Helseplattformen

This entry was posted in challenge, communication, Covid-19 and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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