See also: CIO Profile: Spire's Stephen Hayward adjusts to the switch from Navy to healthcare

Spire Healthcare's IT director Stephen Hayward moved from a career in the Navy as a submarine commander to one as a hospitals operations leader. At the moment, making patient data more fluid, yet keeping it secure is the industry's biggest concern.

Hayward’s main task over the next two years is to roll out a new ERP system worth tens of millions of pounds.

The software, from SAP, is due to be ready by the start of 2013.

The new software will give Spire more accurate information of the company’s costs — medical procedures, consultants and in the supply chain.

This will help the business save costs and will let staff update patient records more quickly, Hayward says.

The SAP software has two parts — a financial administration system and the patient administration system.

Once the ERP system is up and running, Hayward plans to introduce electronic patient records in Spire hospitals and supply clinicians with iPads which will enable them to show patients their medical results when they are performing their ward rounds.

It should then be possible for staff to automatically feed other current medical information, such as blood pressure, temperature and pulse, straight into the patients’ electronic records from their bedsides, Hayward adds.

He also wants to install touch panels in operating theatres for recording information including the start and finish of the anaesthetic process and the surgery itself, and to log the staff present.

“It will help improve theatre efficiency,” Hayward says.

It’s an ambitious plan.

Hayward must hope that the introduction of all this new technology will go more smoothly than the NHS’s own £12.7bn Connecting for Health programme which aimed to create a national computer infrastructure for the health service, including electronic patient records.

The programme, which has largely failed to meet its original objectives, has been rocked by delays, rising costs and disputes with suppliers.

“The electronic patient record is a huge leap forward,” Hayward says “No one has yet achieved it in the UK. It’s a difficult thing and at the leading edge of technology for the healthcare company.”

Doctors criticised the NPfIT overhaul for being over-centralised and inflexible.

However, Hayward stresses that his own IT department will consult extensively with doctors before introducing electronic patient records and other new technology.

“Doctors and consultants are very much our partners. We can’t force things upon them. It has got to be pulled by them rather than pushed by us,” he explains.

Hearts and minds
To keep growing Spire needs to attract consultant surgeons: very few patients actually choose the hospital they go to and most are referred to a consultant by their GP.

Many consultants will work at two different hospitals, varying their work between the hospitals depending on the quality of medical equipment and staff expertise at each centre.

Technology that makes everyday tasks easier for consultants can also be a factor in where they chose to work.

At Spire hospitals, for example, picture archiving technology allows consultants to view X-rays online wherever they are.

“All the [medical care] can be good but if the hospital’s administration is poor, it’s just as likely to alienate the patients and get back feedback,” Hayward says.

“Administration is underpinned by IT. If the administration fails all the good work done by the rest of organisation can be a complete waste.”

Young consultants are often more familiar with new technology. Older consultants, who may not have had as much experience using new technology can be “more resistant” to new IT, Hayward says.

“It’s a case of having to show them what the systems can do for them to try to persuade them to adopt it. There are some who insist on staying with a pen and paper and we have to provide support to put it [the information] on the system ourselves.”

Going from the navy to IT may seem a stretch but Hayward says his career has had a common plotted course.

“From my time in the navy to running hospitals to running the IT division of Spire, the commonality is that I’ve always worked with a team of experts who know more about their particular field than I do,” he says.

“For example, in a nuclear submarine the marine engineer knows much more about the mechanics of the boat, and the Polaris officer knows a lot more about nuclear weapons than I ever could. My job was to make sure that the team functioned to its maximum efficiency and to make sure that everybody had the resources needed to do their job.”

How does Spire’s board assess the performance of the IT department?

Hospital directors and other staff rate the IT department in monthly surveys.

“I’m pleased to say we consistently score in the nine points on this and have done for the last couple of years.”

Starting from scratch
In his free time, Hayward, who lives in Dorset, likes to travel (“It probably comes from being in the navy. I miss the going-round-the-world bit”) and has recently taken up golf.

“My pro tells me that taking up golf at my age means I’m unlikely to get a handicap of less than 20 so I’m determined to prove him wrong, but I’ve a sneaking suspicion from progress to date that he’s probably right!”

I wouldn’t bet on it. Hayward has a knack of mastering new skills quickly.