Douglas Maxwell

Reflections of my Digital Health Systems Masters course

I feel lucky…

In fact, I feel very lucky…

I have been gifted an amazing opportunity to study for an MSc in Digital Health Systems at the University of Strathclyde and I am definitely making the most of it! I want to tell you a bit about the course and how I took advantage of this once in a lifetime opportunity but before I do I want to briefly explain; why Digital Health?

Firstly, the digital technology market is one of the fastest growing sectors in the world with the UK the digital health sector growing as fast as the people can fill the jobs (1). Secondly, I love working with people and love working with technology, and thirdly, digital is where I think my time and effort can make the biggest positive difference in people’s lives. I now see I can fulfil my personal social aims by being involved in the Digital Health sector, rather than just working for a charity or public sector body.

Now, I’m writing this having just finished my first semester and what a learning curve it has been! In a week of inductions, with each lecturer going through the course outcomes the feeling of Imposter syndrome started to creep into to my thoughts. I started to think, have a taken on too much? Will I be able to do the work? Will I fail all my assignments? etc., etc. So, with the support of my family, lecturers, a great group of classmates, a lot of hard work, and a commitment to try my best I completed the semester, having not just enjoyed it, but I have been blown away with the opportunity I have had to learn, (I’m going to be a bit of geek here) and learn about some really cool stuff!

The MSc in Digital Health Systems is taught Masters, which suits the way I like to learn and while I’m not going to go through each of the modules learning outcomes (buy me a coffee and I’ll chat for hours if you like!) I think it’s important to summarise the modules and my key takeaways from each of them.

Information Systems Architecture

This module presented and explored the world of Enterprise Architecture Frameworks and how complexity can be managed through a logical and systematic process. Think of the strategic, operational, technical and logistical work required to deliver a bank’s global payments system, or the level of detail required for Amazon to scale the Amazon Web Services across central Asia and Africa and you’re getting into the territory of Enterprise Architecture. Through my studies I looked for evidence of this type of methodology for managing complexity within the public and third sectors and couldn’t find any example — if you know of the use of any enterprise architecture frameworks please get in touch and share your knowledge and experience.

Digital Health Implementation

This two-semester module explores the policy, strategy, clinical and technical considerations of digital health implementation. I’ve really enjoyed learning about the Scottish and UK Digital Health policy drivers, business case development, international digital health perspectives, systems design and the legal and ethical considerations of managing and integrating Electronic Health Records (EHR). As part of this module, I developed a business case to develop and implement an ‘Information System for Measuring Mental Health Quality Indicators in NHS Forth Valley’. This has been a real eye-opener for me in actually “seeing” the number and complexity of technical systems for just one Health Board, never mind the 14 territorial Health Boards, seven special Health Boards and NHS Health Scotland.

Design of Usable Health Systems

Can you have a favourite module? Should you not try and fight your bias and “like” all your modules the same? I don’t know… but what I do know is I now have experience of the amount of work required to conceive, design and develop (good) applications and devices to support a person’s health and wellbeing. My number one key takeaway from this module is, it can be relatively straight forward measuring the usability of a device or application but understanding the usefulness is significantly harder.

Shameless plug alert!

Check out the work of the University of Strathclyde’s Digital Health and Wellness research group for insight into some cool stuff in this area.

Health Literacy

This module was worth 10 credits towards my overall MSc, meaning it only ran for four weeks, which is a real pity as this area is where my professional passion lies. It didn’t look at font sizes, clear English writing, accessible website design but explored the conscious and subconscious actions around the human search for information and knowledge. Fascinating right? You bet, and it explored the stages a person goes through in seeking out information and their cognitive and emotional states during each of the stages. There is some highly relevant, Glasgow based research into the information seeking behaviours of lone-parents in Glasgow and it’s well worth a read for everyone who cares about people getting the right information, in the right place, at the right time.

Health Information Governance

Once again, this module was worth 10 credits and involved writing a short essay every week for 10 weeks reflecting the learning journey. I really enjoyed writing the short, factual and opinion-based essays as well as reading my classmates essays. One of my essays, which may be of some interest, was on the ethics of privacy and technology in Distributed Ledger Technology and Healthcare Internet of Things (H-IoT), which you can read here.

That's it, I feel I’ve said enough for now but before I go I just want to mention that none of this would have been possible without the scholarship from the Digital Health and Care Institute and the support from my employer, the Health and Social Care Alliance Scotland, and most importantly, my family. I will forever be filled with gratitude for the support from everyone. I feel the best way to show my appreciation is by applying my passion, my skills and my experience to helping the people of Scotland live well.

Now, onto the next semester…

Douglas Maxwell, ALISS Programme Manager

MSc Digital Health Systems Student, University of Strathclyde

1. Rimpiläinen, S., Morrison, C. and Rooney, L. (2018) Review and Analysis of the Digital Health Sector and Skills for Scotland. Digital Health and Care Institute, Glasgow.

ALISS is an information service which aims to make health and wellbeing support and activities easier to find. www.aliss.org