Interview with Joe MacDonald

Views on Clinical Engagement with Joe McDonald

Joe is the Chairman of the CCIO Leaders Network and has vast experience of engaging clinicians in IT projects. We’d like to take this opportunity to thank Joe for his time on this interview. 

We recently interviewed Joe McDonald and quizzed him on his best clinical engagement methods, CCIO qualities and whether he thought the NHS would be Paperless by 2018.

As a specialist in clinical engagement , what are some of your best practical methods for engaging clinicians?
Clinicians are very clever people so it’s important to engage with them in the right way. My top tip is reading Rob Goffee’s Leading Clever People – it’s essential reading if you’re going to try and engage with clinicians. It changed my whole management style.

What kind of forums/meetings do you organise, how often, and what communication methods do you use?   
In terms of getting good engagement, there’s no substitute for face-to-face meetings as often as you can. Of course there are alternatives; phone calls, online conferences etc, but if you’re going to produce a strong network that involves people actually moving things forward, you need to establish a core group of people that are going to meet face-to-face and on a regular basis. This ensures they get to know each other, learn and trust each other. All great teams are built on trust!

What would be your top tip for an EDM programme manager embarking on an EDM implementation?
My first top tip is to engage service. The programme manager needs to be a well-respected clinician – not a senior clinician who people don’t like, but somebody who is well valued. This person does not necessarily have to be a technical person and most importantly must have the ability to confidently stand in front of clinicians and engage with them.

Does it also help if it’s somebody who has the authority to make decisions?
Absolutely, if you can line up financial authority with the authority that comes with being a clinician you have a good chance. If you can ensure the individual is also on the board, helping to keep everybody involved and who can successfully move any obstacles aside will also help.

The reason why we have been successful is due to the willingness to communicate . . . all we had to do was take that communication off paper.

Do you believe that the NHS will succeed in its goal to be Paperless by 2018?
It can definitely be done. Northumberland, Tyne and Wear Mental Health Trust (NTW) have been Paperless since 2011. The only time we revert back to paper is when we have to interact with other parts of the health service. Acute Trusts should be learning from Mental Health’s success. The reason why we have been successful is due to the fact that it’s not about technology; it’s not about IT- it’s about the willingness to communicate. We positioned ourselves on communication and multi-disciplinary co-operation and all we had to do was take that communication and take it off the paper. NTW had a relatively minimal change process. We were already sharing as much information as we possibly could. Paperless by 2018?  Yes we can! But the key message here is that Acute Trusts need to listen to Mental Health Trusts for advice.

What were your reasons for setting up your company – Compare the Software?
Frustration.  It was coming into work and seeing yesterday’s technology today on NHS computers. I know what usability looks and feels like and it is a million miles away from what NHS staff is using. One of the problems is a complete lack of transparency in the electronic patient’s record market; it is opaque on cost, quality and usability. I set up Compare the Software in an attempt to shine a light on these issues.

Unfortunately, some of the system suppliers are so litigious that printing an honest review of any given system will cause tension. Therefore, employees will only discuss systems in an informal network. NTW has a good relationship with suppliers – communication is strong and we discuss what works and what doesn’t work. Ultimately, the problem lies with the fact that there is still no open market for electronic medical records in this government.

In your view – What makes a good CCIO?
A successful CCIO is a respected senior clinician who is not respected for their IT knowledge but for their clinical knowledge. Having that IT knowledge is simply a bonus. Moreover, they must be a credible leader.

Why is it so important that IT projects are clinically led rather than IT led?
General practice has had massive success in the deployment of IT systems because the end user is the customer – in this case, the clinician is the customer. Consequently, the system does everything it needs to do because the focus has been based on the clinicians need. Unfortunately, in many Trusts, the emphasis hasn’t revolved around the end user.

Joe McDonald currently writes his own column for E health Insider. Visit or click here for his latest article.