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NCIMI's clinical informatics lead shares her thoughts on team working, disruptive innovation in healthcare and personalised patient care.

Portrait of Kerrie Woods

What is your job and what does it entail?

I work as the clinical informatics lead for NCIMI.  I work closely with the CTO and the technical project manager to translate strategy and requirements into concrete actions, helping to clarify priorities and assigning clinical informatics resources.  I also work alongside our CMO, ethics and information governance colleagues to develop the integrated governance framework for NCIMI and implement our Data Access Committee.  


What do you enjoy about working with NCIMI?

The people are amazing:  both NCIMI colleagues and our wider stakeholders have a wealth of experience and talent and everyone is incredibly passionate about the benefits of the work.  Speaking of benefits, the translational potential for NCIMI is very exciting – our ability to improve the quality of life of patients, as well as increase efficiencies in the NHS and maximise its funding are really important as the population grows and as we are all living longer.  Supporting the NHS on this journey is a real privilege.  Finally, it’s great to work with so much talent in the private sector, and amongst the SME community.  It’s another part of modernising the NHS I suppose – to consider creative ways to bring great new ideas and technology into the NHS to benefit patients, the public and staff, and improve the functioning of the service as a whole. 

What are the greatest challenges of your role?

The size and scale are challenging:  working across many trusts on multiple projects is complex and requires strong communications and excellent peer to peer relationships.  Additionally, research and development in the NHS is not always top priority in a service that, understandably, prioritises clinical care and often struggles with funding and resources. 

The trick to this is to support the work needed with funded posts on the ground wherever possible, as well as emphasizing the translational nature of the benefits.  We are lucky with NCIMI that we expect to realise advantages for patients and staff within the next year or two – this really helps to motivate our teams.   

More recently, the COVID-19 pandemic have brought a number of new challenges – we have had to reprioritize work to support data collections for urgent research and development purposes. 

We’ve also had to change our expectations of colleagues in our member Trusts, many of whom are on the front line treating patients and providing essential support services. 

It has been humbling to see the efforts of our clinical colleagues first hand, and to be able to contribute in a small way, to the fightback.   Additionally, our team, like many others, has also had to adjust to home working, virtual meetings, and balancing full-time work with childcare.   This has been difficult but the team has really risen to the challenge with great pragmatism, empathy, grace and good humour. 

What do you think the future of AI in healthcare is?

I think it presents a rare opportunity to disrupt and transform how we deliver healthcare, in the face of challenges including an ageing and growing population.  It has the potential to make NHS services more efficient and staff more productive and innovative as well as improve quality of care. 

We should expect to see new diagnostic and treatments available faster than ever before.  AI could also improve the ways in which patients interact with the service – not just streamlining access to more detailed data about them, but allowing patients to extract their data from the traditional healthcare setting for use elsewhere. 

Finally, from the clinical informatics perspective, the speed with which we will be able process and analyse rich, clinical data that already exists in hospitals will help us to gain insights to support service improvement as well as research and development.  

However, these developments are not without risk.  It's important the NHS is organised and orientated to provide personalised medicine for example – this is a great challenge to NHS leaders looking to the future. 

It is also important that new diagnostic techniques and treatments are affordable and available – that they translate into real benefits for patients.  Finally, there needs to be a sensible proportionate governance framework that takes into account: individual patient confidentiality and privacy; the value of insights identified at a population level that benefit all patients, and legitimate contributions made by the NHS and other organisations in the assembly, curation, annotation and interpretation of data.   

What do you do in your spare time?

I’m currently eight months pregnant running around after a 20 month old, so the simple answer is to put my feet up with a cup of tea!  I really enjoy reading (Invisible Women and This Is Going To Hurt are recent favourites) as well as gardening when I have more than a spare minute – usually with music or a podcast on in the background. 

I’m currently listening to lots of Pixies, David Bowie and a bunch of hip-hop.  Podcast-wise, I enjoy the Economist, More or Less and R!sky Talk, as well as In Our time and Stuff You Missed In History Class for a quick history fix.