My journey as a Topol Digital Fellow

Published on 25 July 2022, by Dr Venkatesh Muthukrishnan

Professional networks, Fellowships and scholarships, NHS Digital Academy

This is my first blog post for the Topol Digital Fellowships programme, so for those who don’t know me I’ll give a quick introduction. My name is Venkatesh Muthukrishnan, I am a Consultant Liaison Psychiatrist working at the Friarage Hospital in Northallerton, North Yorkshire.

This is my first blog post for the Topol Digital Fellowships Programme, so for those who don’t know me I’ll give a quick introduction! My name is Venkatesh Muthukrishnan, I am a Consultant Liaison Psychiatrist working at the Friarage Hospital in Northallerton, North Yorkshire.

Alongside my clinical activities, which also includes a day a week at York Memory Services, I work as the Training Programme Director for Core Psychiatry training in East and North Yorkshire. I mention this as digitalisation of postgraduate medical training is as important as digitalisation of healthcare. In that sense, I am also very excited to be the Educational Lead for the Yorkshire School of Psychiatry, ushering in the Health Education England (HEE) virtual platform of Blackboard for delivering Psychiatry training. I am also able to share the insights that I gain, through the Topol Digital Fellowship, with the current postgraduate doctors in training who are going to be the future workforce.

The Topol Digital Fellowships Programme is a HEE sponsored programme to bring about the digital revolution in healthcare that would help retain UK’s premier position in global healthcare. It is designed to give the Fellows valuable protected time, that might otherwise be unable to design, develop and deliver a specific digital project.

There is a lot of helpful information on the Topol Digital Fellowship website, which outlines the application process and steps involved in becoming a Fellow. It is a very competitive process but it is designed to enable the Fellow to be well prepared in terms of their undertaking. The interview was a very exhaustive process as there were lot of questions on the ethical side of my project. I found that very challenging but at the same time extremely useful. I sought out Dr Mike Nix, one of the panellists and a previous Topol Fellow after the interview. He offered me further insights into developing my project. He has now co-authored an extensive but very useful report on ‘Understanding healthcare workers confidence in AI’, which I would say is a must read for healthcare professionals.

I must mention the great support and constant encouragement I received from Kam Sidhu, who was at the time the Trust’s Chief Information Officer (CIO). She encouraged me to develop my thoughts on using artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) to develop a predictive algorithm with the aim of identifying those older adults who might be at risk of admission to mental health inpatient units. I would write about my project later, but one can never overestimate the importance of appropriate mentor, sponsor, and support. Kam Sidhu was all this rolled into one. The confidence that I gained through her support and advice, I believe, contributed significantly to my success at the interview and selection process.

Previous Fellows have described, in a lot of detail and excitement, the start of the Topol Fellowship journey. Even then, I was pleasantly surprised when I attended the face to face (yes you read it correctly, face to face) launch of the Fellowship at the ICC, Birmingham, on 25 April. The sheer energy, enthusiasm and the amount of brainpower being directed at digital transformation was awe inspiring. It was a networking opportunity like never before. This network is going to be immensely useful if one were to navigate the inevitable highs and lows of developing a project. We are divided into groups, and I am in the Predictive Analytics group. We have already formed a WhatsApp group to stay in touch. I do have to warn that some of the GenNext Professionals have so much IT and digital expertise that they could easily hold their own in any IT company or organization! It was in that sense useful to realise, from Dr James Reed, Chief Digital and Information Officer of the Digital Readiness Education Programme, that the most important aspect is not one’s digital skills or expertise, but the ability to connect with people as it is the professionals, patients and carers who have to work collectively in bringing the digital transformation.

It has been more than two months since the start of my fellowship in May. Despite probably being one of the few among the current cohort to have a written and approved in principle project, I had to endure some setbacks. One of them was change in Trust processes which meant that we had to go back to drawing board in terms of identifying appropriate external vendors to work with. There has also been a significant delay in assembling the Clinical Scientific Team, a team to be comprised of Clinical lead (which would me), Project Sponsor (CIO or Deputy CIO), Programme Officer, Programme Support, Clinical Scientist and Data Analyst, with a view to working and collaborating with the external IT vendor in developing an appropriate predictive algorithm.

As I have been sufficiently warned beforehand that a project of such ambition and desire would face its inevitable setbacks, I was very well prepared to receive this setback. I have therefore been able to focus my time and energy on bringing myself up to speed with digital transformation as much as I can. As you could imagine this is an enormous subject and there is lot to read, reflect, digest and learn. Time is also needed to partake in the various workshops being delivered on one hand by TPX Impact on very useful topics such as stakeholder mapping, impact measurement, design research, and the other hand, AI and ML by the University of Manchester.

The Fellowship also opens an incredible array of opportunities. I have been approached by so many professionals working in this exciting field, both NHS and private and I have had the opportunity to discuss various exciting ideas.

I attended the Digital Summer School at York, held on the 14 and 15 July. There was discussion on how crucial digital transformation is to making health and social care more efficient but as to how there is trepidation and uncertainty among professionals about the pros and cons. It was an excellent networking opportunity, not only with fellow healthcare professionals but also with digital technology professionals who are working with various central organizations like NHS England.

DM

Dr Venkatesh Muthukrishnan

Topol Digital Fellows and Consultant Liaison Psychiatrist

Friarage Hospital, Northallerton


Dr Venkatesh Muthukrishnan has been a Consultant Old Age Psychiatrist since 2011. He was the Clinical Director for Older Peoples Mental Health Services for North Yorkshire and York from November 2019 to April 2022, and has been the Training Programme Director for Core Psychiatry Training for North and East Yorkshire since December 2018. Dr Muthukrishnan is also the Educational Lead for the Yorkshire School of Psychiatry for the rollout of Blackboard into postgraduate Psychiatry training.

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