By Euan McComiskie
Health Informatics Lead Chartered Society of Physiotherapy
“How does a physiotherapist get involved in informatics?” It’s a question I’m often asked and my honest answer is always “Accidentally!”
I’ve always been interested in computers and technology. I did a crash higher (now National 5, Scottish equivalent to A Level) in computer studies in my final year of school in 2000. I loved the programming part of the course but didn’t quite have the same passion for the engineering part. At the impressionable age of 17 I also had my head turned by other things so study was never quite at the top of my priority list! So I failed my higher computer studies (don’t tell anyone!) but managed to eventually find my way back to the subject area via a BSc in Sport and Exercise Science from Stirling University and an MSc in Physiotherapy from Queen Margaret University.
I qualified as a physiotherapist in 2007 and began work straight away in Dundee, moving to Livingston in 2008. I worked as a band 5 and then band 6 physiotherapist at St. John’s and I loved it! I loved the learning, I loved the chat with patients, I loved challenging myself, I loved mentoring students and other physios, and I loved the feeling of making patients better. My manager hated computers and so when asked if she could go to a meeting of a new eHealth group in NHS Lothian she looked for willing volunteers!
I went to that meeting of the NHS Lothian AHP Informatics Group and I was hooked as soon as I began to understand the acronyms being used! I began doing some project work for that group around standardised data input for the Patient Administration System we were using and my interest grew further. Some funding was found in early 2013 and I was appointed NHS Lothian’s first ever AHP Informatics Lead. I was involved in developing and delivering operational change as well as strategic influencing, and did that job part-time while I continued my clinical post. In 2015 I was appointed AHP eHealth Advisor in the Information Services Division (ISD) at NHS National Services Scotland (NSS) on a part-time basis so stepped back from the clinical work and went to being a full time informatics geek! In my national role I was heavily involved in the development and feasibility testing of a minimum standardised dataset for all Scottish AHPs (AHPOMs). I also had the fortune to work for a short time with the clinical IT team at NSS looking at clinical safety and system procurement amongst other things which took me fully out of clinical physiotherapy work for a short time. So when the opportunity to work full time with the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (CSP) as their Health Informatics Lead came up in early 2018 I jumped at the chance. A UK-wide post with a wide-ranging remit to lead for the organisation on all matters related to informatics – perfect! I started in April 2018 and I’ve loved every geeky minute since!
In the first year I’ve been involved in genomics, artificial intelligence, virtual reality, national service evaluation, local service improvement, international digital health research, setting up a special interest group and much more. I live and breathe digital health, informatics and technology and I love it! Some would suggest a little too much but it makes it easier to get up for work in the morning especially the regular 4am starts for meetings in London!
While I’m not involved in the day to day delivery of physiotherapy services now, I really feel like my role supports the clinicians. The use of technology can help free up some time from menial tasks to allow physiotherapists to do what they are best at: caring for and treating patients. I believe that technology will never replace physiotherapists but technology-enabled physiotherapists will absolutely replace those that are not. It’s my job to make sure that we have as many technology-enabled physiotherapists as possible and I look forward to the adventure that my job takes me on as I do it!
My advice for any AHPs wanting to get involved in informatics, digital health or technology is to seek support from your colleagues. They can point you to your local dNMAHP lead (in Scotland) or CCIO (in England) who can help to share some opportunities to learn and network. There are loads of free conferences, online courses and other learning you can do so make the most of them. www.digitalhealth.net is one of my favourites as is the www.facultyofclinicalinformatics.co.uk. And read lots! Again there is so much available but start with the Topol review and Scottish Government’s Digital Strategy. The last piece of advice is to say yes to more opportunities. I met a guy called Nick Adkins a few weeks ago (pictured) He is the leader of the #pinksocks tribe which promotes passion, empathy, caring and connection and saying yes to more opportunities is one of his mantras. I agree and now have some smart pink socks to show for it! Look out for them next time you see me but maybe not the cammo kilt!
If you’re a physiotherapist and interested or involved in digital health, informatics or technology then please get in touch on MccomiskieE@csp.org.uk