A Master Stroke of Luck

Douglas Maxwell, a current MSc Digital Health Systems student, shares his student experience. 

Why Digital Health?

I feel lucky. In fact, I feel very lucky.

I’ve been given an opportunity to study an MSc in Digital Health Systems course at the University of Strathclyde, and I’m going to make the most of it! But before I go into how I took advantage of this once in a lifetime opportunity I want to briefly explain why digital health.

It’s simple really; I love working with people and love working with technology, but I’ve another reason and it’s down to where my time and effort can make the biggest positive difference to people’s lives. I now see that I can fulfil my personal social aims and ethos through the sector of digital health, rather than just working for a charity or public sector body. That and the fact the digital technology market is one of the fastest growing sectors in the world and in the UK the digital health sector is growing only as fast and people can fill the jobs.

Back to my course, I’m writing this blog having just finished the first semester of the course and what a learning curve it has been! In the first week of inductions, and 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 I taken on too much? Will I be able to do the work? Will I fail all my assignments? etc, etc... But through my supportive family, supportive lecturers, a great group of classmates and a lot of hard work and a commitment to try my best I completed the first semester having not just enjoyed it, but almost being blown away with the opportunity I had to learn, and I’m going to be a bit of geek here, but learn about some really cool stuff!

The MSc in Digital Health Systems course is taught masters, 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 takeaways from each of them. 

Information Systems Architecture

This module presented and explored the world of Enterprise Architecture Frameworks and how complexity can be manged 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 examples – if you know of a use of enterprise architecture frameworks please get in touch and share your knowledge and experience.

Digital Health Implementation

This two-semester module is exploring 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 an experience of the sheer amount of work required to conceive, design and develop (good) applications and devices to support a person’s health and wellbeing. My big takeaway from this module is that it can be relatively straight forward measuring the usability of a device or application but understanding the usefulness is significantly harder.

Health Literacy

This module was worth 10 credits towards my overall MSc and that meant 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.  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 Information Governance

Once again, this module was worth 10 credits and involved writing a short essay every week for 10 weeks and then reflecting on the learning journey. I really enjoyed writing the short, factual and opinion-based essays as well as reading my classmates essays as well. I wrote an essay on the Ethics of Privacy and Technology in Distributed Ledger Technology and Healthcare Internet of Things (H-IoT).

I’ve really got to finish on this, and it’s last but definitely not least, you see none of this would have been possible without the scholarship support 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 everyone has given me and I feel that the best way to show my appreciation is by applying my passion, my skills and my experience to helping the people of Scotland to live well.