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In a new interview, HTN spoke with Cara Afzal, programme director for data and digital at Health Innovation Manchester, about her journey and experiences with digital in healthcare.

HTN started by asking Cara how she got into digital and data and how this journey had brought her to where she is now.

“I started my journey working on large-scale digital transformation programmes at Health Innovation Manchester in 2015,” she said.

“My first digital project was part of a national AHSN (now known as the Health Innovation Network) programme to help CCGs understand atrial fibrillation prevalence and improve treatment for patients. Our mantra was to ‘detect, protect, and perfect’, and we worked with an industry partner to present data in a dashboard from across Greater Manchester to show the current status of atrial fibrillation prevalence, highlighting where there were gaps in detection and how the CCG could improve patient care.”

That ignited Cara’s interest around the power of what digital platforms can do in helping staff to better understand the extent of the problem they are trying to solve.

She explained. “Once we’d helped the CCG identify gaps in atrial fibrillation detection, I led a programme deploying devices that captured a medical-grade, single-lead ECG in just 30 seconds, detecting a normal or atrial fibrillation heart rhythm. This innovative project helped the CCG to clearly define the extent of the problem and identify cohorts of high-risk patients who then received treatment to reduce the likelihood of suffering a stroke.

This was one of many projects supported by the Health Innovation Network’s NHS Innovation Accelerator (NIA) scheme in 2015/16 that enabled products developed by frontline clinicians and entrepreneurs to demonstrate impact in one part of England before being rolled out on a wider scale. The scheme accelerated digital transformation into the NHS, and patients benefitted more quickly from proven digital innovations in healthcare locally and nationally. The scheme is still running today, with impact data being captured to evidence the benefits.”

In addition, Cara shared some of her other work, such as her involvement with the DataWell programme, which aimed to establish a federated shared record for Greater Manchester, which she says “did not come to fruition in its entirety but learning from this programme was a building block for the GM Care Record (GMCR).”

She also commented on advancements in this space: “During COVID, we saw the pace of digital change like never before and began to see the positive impact that digitalisation can make. I took on a post as an Associate Director for Digital Transformation at Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust (MFT) to better understand the acute sector’s “challenges of implementation on the coalface”. During her time at the trust, she was involved in the launch of the Hive EPR (powered by EPIC) which went live last year, supporting the roll out at four of the ten sites of MFT in what she describes as “an invaluable journey, where she was able to practice iterative techniques for implementing change and acquire real experience of working alongside frontline clinicians and managers on one of the largest digital transformation programmes carried out in the NHS.”

As well as the EPR programme, Cara also worked with a team on establishing a Frailty Virtual Ward. Cara had plenty of praise for the team at the trust, mentioning the “brilliant work being led by Dr Eleni Malloupa, a Complex Health Consultant, and Charlotte Wilkinson, Physician Associate in Complex Medicine”. She continued, “I’ve worked with some wonderful people who go above and beyond, and I’m blown away by the additional effort busy frontline clinical and management staff apply daily when doing additional digital change work on top of their day jobs. I think that keeps me motivated as well.”

She added that she also did a short stint as a Divisional Director, leading the Division of Medicine, Complex Health, and Outpatients’ Division. “I’ve done two quite big pieces of work that have given me a greater understanding of the challenges of implementing change in the acute sector and getting technologies into practice within the NHS. I’ve now got acute sector frontline experience, and I’ve come back to Health Innovation Manchester to share learning and progress work we do across the region.”

Read full interview

Date: 13 November

Posted in News on Nov 12, 2023

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