Tag Archives: doctors

Money makes the world go round

It’s been a while since I blogged, but that doesn’t mean that nothing has been happening. I continue to participate in the RCP ePortfolio group with our next meeting coming up in July so please pass on anything you want me to feedback to them. Also, the teams behind Meducation and Podmedics have joined forces and launched a kickstarter to start developing Oportfolio: a free, open source ePortfolio, designed by doctors for use from medical school to retirement. Is this a game-changer? It could be….

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All doctors need a way to log their achievements and learning. But an ePortfolio should be more than a collection of paperwork mandated for an appraisal or revalidation. It should support an individual in a constant process of self-reflection and improvement, and enhance something that is at the heart of learning – a relationship. The day when trainees and supervisors talk with enthusiasm and joy about their ePortfolio will be a happy one. I can’t wait to see this happen, but looking around at the software available across all specialities and all levels of training it feels a long way off. Why?

Money, money, money

One of the biggest barriers to change is constrained resources. We all know there is not much cash around at the moment in the NHS, and education in particular has suffered. Trainees have complained that the ePortfolio they use is not good value for money, but there is a limited amount that the Colleges (who hold the purse strings) can invest. So how much does the ePortfolio cost?

Photo credit: Images_of_Money http://www.taxbrackets.org/(Creative Commons)

Photo credit: Images_of_Money http://www.taxbrackets.org/(Creative Commons)

In 2012 the NES ePortfolio (the biggest provider) cost it’s customers (Royal Colleges,the Foundation Programme etc) over £600,000. That was just one year. Good software costs money: it is created by talented professionals whose time and expertise is valuable. Putting a number on what good value is for the ePortfolio would be arbitrary  However, if the users think it’s not good value, then it isn’t. They don’t value it, and therefore are less likely to engage with it. Disaster.

Due to the current way in which medical ePortfolios are funded, the only way to make them better, add features and speed up the development of the app would be to pour lots of money in. This is because the funding model depends on the customers (Colleges) individually specifying changes and paying for them in terms of developers’ time. These costs are on top of the day to day running costs. Unless this funding model radically changes, NES will never be able to deliver the kind of ePortfolio doctors are clamouring for. The team at NES have been fantastic in engaging with trainees and encouraging calls for change, but they are constrained by their location in an NHS Scotland Health Board and their lack of power over their own organisational and financial structures.

Don’t be shackled to the past

An important point made by Ben, a NES developer on an open Linked.in thread is that trainees only see one part of structure of the ePortfolio. There is a lot behind the sterile pages of mini-cexs, in terms of levels of access, account types, administration and data reporting. But the counter-question to this is, is that where we should be directing our money? Should we be paying for complicated layers of access structures, or should we trade this for better functionality? It is time for a fundamental shift in our conception of an ePortfolio, putting the learner at the centre. We have the opportunity to re-imagine what an ePortfolio could be and mustn’t let the structure of the current system dominate our thinking.

Open source – what’s all the fuss about?

Some are fearful of open source projects but there is already precedent in the NHS for open source software; for clinicians working directly with software developers to iteratively create things of beauty. If you have not seen OpenEyes before, click and behold! OpenEyes even holds patient data securely, so any alarmist worries about trainee data in an open source system can stop right here. It is fantastic to see new, agile ways of working emerging as successful – and anything has to be better than the NHS’s previous track record on IT projects!

Oportfolio

The Oportfolio team are creating an open source ePortfolio. This means the code will be open for anyone to use. They are not in it for the money. Their motives (paraphrased by me after many conversations with Ed and Jeremy at NHS Hackdays and online) are:

  • a wish to help those who work in the NHS (for the ultimate benefit of patients)
  • an interest in how technology can support education
  • a passion for creating beautiful software.

Oportfolio will available to any doctor in the NHS, including those who are currently not affiliated to a College and therefore have no ePortfolio at all. The potential gains to the NHS are huge in terms of money, and doctor-time. More intangible benefits include: trainee and educator happiness; and more fulfilling postgraduate training.

Ultimately, happier, more reflective, better educated and informed doctors give better patient care. And that’s something you can’t put a price on. 

So whether Oportfolio becomes the best thing since sliced bread and is adopted by all healthcare professionals in the NHS, or whether it is never adopted but creates  pressure for change in the current systems that can no longer be ignored, it will have been a success.

The plan is for the end product to be free to users, but to get started they need a little seed money. I’ve just put my money where my mouth is to help get it off the ground. I hope you do the same.

What can you do?

Can we make ePortfolio open source? a guest post from Karen Beggs

My first question is WHY?

Here are the main issues I hear about:

  • A lot of trainees aren’t happy with workplace based assessments
  • Internet speed is an issue in some NHS locations
  • Some people don’t like using an ePortfolio
  • Some people want to have more input into ePortfolio design
  • Some trainees want their seniors to be more engaged with their learning
  • There is a common misunderstanding that College membership fees are used solely to pay for the ePortfolio

So what are we already doing about these issues?

  • We are eliciting feedback directly from the wider ‘user’ community through social media to find out what usability improvements we can make…and get them done.

We’ve started this already… following a conversation last month with a trainee who was frustrated by the curriculum linking process, our architect made a simple change that was deployed a few days later (see demo here), reducing the number of clicks needed to make multiple links. We have also introduced a twitter feed, visible on the www.nhseportfolios.org home page).

We are moving to a more elastic hosting environment so that as the system gets busier it can engage more resources to deal with the increased load. We aim to have this fully implemented by autumn 2012.

The NHS ePortfolio team do not make decisions about assessment processes, training requirements or the use of specific workplace based assessments. Expertise in these areas usually lies with the Colleges, Postgraduate Deans and the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges. However, we can:

  • Help connect trainees with ideas (or complaints) with the relevant people, whether College, user group, developers or others. In July 2012 I attended the AoMRC Trainee Doctors Committee, and as a result will recommend to the Chair of the specialty ePortfolio User Group that a representative from the committee sits on that group. Some trainees are not aware of their own College decision making processes, and we will pass on contact details as required.

Would open source address any of these issues?

As far as I can see, NO!

But why don’t we just hand over the code to the large community of willing, enthusiastic OSS developers?

  • It’s not as easy as just handing out ‘the code’. Open source software must comply with a number of criteria (see www.opensource.org), many of which would contradict the current NHS ePortfolio license terms.
  • Who would fund re-writing and re-negotiating software licenses for the existing 25 or so organisations using the NHS ePortfolio? What if one of these organisations objects? It’s an integrated application with many shared features, so to separate out one ‘Customer’ would require a large-scale re-write. That seems to defeat the purpose.
  • The ePortfolio is integrated with a number of external (usually College run) systems and moving to an OSS model would have implications for each of these systems. Would Colleges want to pay to conduct a thorough risk assessment before signing up? And would they then want to pay for any adjustments needed to maintain the integrity of their own systems?
  • There would still have to be stringent controls over the quality of the code submitted. This would require a quality control team – possibly a larger one than we have at the moment. Who would pay for this?

I’m not sure I quite follow the argument… get rid of our current team of developers (some of whom have been with us for over 4 years), keep fingers crossed that some OSS developers can meet our commitments, beef up our QA team so they can check the code of the unknown OSS developers…. Seems that we increase our risks (of not meeting SLAs), decrease predictability (how can we hold anyone to a delivery date if we don’t employ them?) and end up with a QA team but lose our development expertise (the current team wouldn’t hang around for long – why would they?). I can’t see a sustainable business model in here unless we were to maintain a large core team – and if we do that, where are the assumed cost savings of OSS?

I have heard arguments that OSS is cheaper overall, but I don’t really see that cost is the problem (see My first question is WHY? above). It seems to me that the per capita charges for the ePortfolio are pretty reasonable. There is currently no charge made for any supervisor (educational or clinical), programme director, administrator, ARCP panel member or assessor using the ePortfolio. Per capita charges are based only on trainees at present. Would OSS have any impact on this? I can’t see that it would.

Final thoughts

If we were starting from scratch we would look at OSS as one of the options. We would probably look at an off-the-shelf ePortfolio too. We would be foolish not to. But we are not starting from scratch. We have an established, bespoke ePortfolio that is used across the professions (we have versions for Dentists, Nurses & Midwives, Pharmacists, Doctors and Undergraduates), is integrated with a number of external systems and capturing over a million forms submitted by ‘assessors’ every year. Each version has a custom set of features, making it adaptable and cost effective (sharing an underlying code base and database).

Many of the problems we hear about relate to complaints about the educational processes, and changes are already underway to address these (eg move to Supervised Learning Events in Foundation from August 2012). We contribute to these discussions when appropriate.

We have developed good relationships with our broad range of Customers, and continue to work with them to improve our change control and development processes. We work within the constraints of the NHS, which impacts our management of finance, procurement, stakeholder management, technology and decision making, as well as our governance arrangements.

We have an established application and an experienced team, whose expertise and commitment cannot be underestimated. Our development costs are at the lower end of the market, and maintenance charges are extremely good value. We can bring in additional specific expertise as and when we need to.

I can’t help but think the suggestion to move NHS ePortfolio to OSS is a solution to the wrong problem.