How to reach digital maturity

By Julia Gudgeon on 07 March 2018 Midwives Magazine Digital Maturity

Harnessing technology will make the maternity care of the future truly integrated, says Julia Gudgeon. But are you digitally adept enough to embrace it?

As a mother of teenage boys, I sometimes consider the definition of ‘digital maturity’ as the ability to type 58008 on a calculator without smirking.

The maternity workforce is made up predominantly of baby boomers (born 1946-1964) and ‘generation X’ (born 1965-1980), and more than a third of midwives are over 50 (RCM, 2016). Surely our wealth of professional experience and expertise makes us the very dictionary definition of ‘mature’: fully developed, or having reached the most advanced stage in a process.

For many midwives, extensive experience allows them to consider themselves professionally mature. However, put the word ‘digitally’ in front of mature and many of us find ourselves at the back of the knowledge and wisdom queue, with the best peer support coming from our ‘generation Y’ colleagues. This generation, born in the 1980s and 1990s, are the children of the baby boomers. They are perceived as increasingly familiar with digital technology, and are our students, school leavers and newly qualified midwives.

For those who are tech savvy and can claim both digital and professional maturity, the environment we work in often doesn’t support and enable us to embrace the digital help available, resulting in disempowerment and disillusionment. Midwives have great ideas built on a depth of knowledge supporting women’s needs, but lack of recognition or digital technology blindness within organisations leads to a lack of enablement.

In 2016, the national maternity review in England, Better births, reached out to more than 5000 families and confirmed that women wanted access to digital tools offering them the information they needed (NHS England, 2016). Using technology to enable personalisation gives women better understanding and control, and the opportunity to contribute to their own care while giving staff more time to care.

Many of the women we care for are generation Y, and we now find ourselves starting to engage with ‘generation Z’ women – born into the internet world, comfortable with technology and with interacting on social media. As a profession, are we digitally mature enough to cope when faced with digitally savvy women?

We can break this down further: do we have a digital-ready workforce able to use digital technology to enhance care? Are our senior midwifery leaders digitally mature enough to lead on this agenda?

At last year’s RCM conference there was clear evidence that midwives – regardless of age, experience or area of work – were united over the challenges they faced and the conditions they endured. Keynote speeches, national updates and breakout groups addressed these challenges with authority and humour.

As a digital midwife, I sought out knowledge sharing and learning around the digital agenda, and it came as no surprise that the real passion was in the student hall, our generation Y midwives of the future. Digital technology challenges us to think differently about our digital future. It provides the opportunity for care to be truly integrated around women’s needs, and these midwives of the future understand and welcome this.

NHS Digital is responsible for workstream seven of the Maternity Transformation Programme, ‘Harnessing digital technology’. Currently, it is focusing on four main projects that will impact on the future of maternity services in England (NHS England, 2016):

Make it easier for healthcare professionals to collect and share data

The NHS Digital maternity team is working alongside the Professional Record Standards Body to create a recognised standard maternity record. Once this has been agreed, it will enable information to be shared electronically, regardless of location or the system used by the maternity service. This is underpinned by the team’s vision of a ‘tell once, reuse many’ approach to data collection and sharing.

Ensure women have access to comprehensive digital sources of information

Pregnancy-related information on the NHS Choices web pages is soon to be reviewed, taking into account users’ needs and with a new look derived from the feedback of women, charities and healthcare professionals. It will be available later this year.

All women should have access to a comprehensive digital tool that offers them the information they need throughout pregnancy; the tool will have much greater value if it enables the personalisation of information

The team is working with a small number of maternity services to pilot the use of digital personal health records (ePHRs) directly into the hands of women.

Supported by the Maternity Voices Partnership and other user groups, evaluation and growth of digital confidence will result in a wider roll-out of ePHRs across England.

Guided by the ethos that the starting point of any project must involve the end user and clinicians, the Digital Midwives Expert Reference Group was set up, with members being nominated by their HoMs. It is through this group we were able to identify the maternity digital landscape as varied, with pockets of greatness, but also of digital poverty, denial and a workforce often slow to adopt innovation.

Digital maturity

No matter how successful the digital maternity projects, without digital maturity, maternity services will not transform. There needs to be ‘greater teamwork, more and better dialogue and a willingness to break down professional boundaries’ (NHS England, 2016).

Maternity has been identified as a priority for improved, relevant and accessible information. So NHS Digital is working with digital leaders in local maternity systems, scoping the maternity landscape to establish what good digital services look like and where services can focus to achieve significant growth.

It is through this work we will instil in clinical digital leaders the confidence, narrative and understanding to make the changes needed for a digital-ready workforce, utilising networking and peer support. 

Facing a digital future

As individuals we may be lovers of technology, resistant or afraid, but one thing is for sure: it is definitely coming our way. As we face our digital future, don’t shy away.

Revisit the NMC code and consider whether you can truly afford to be resistant to digital change.

Don’t be afraid of social media. Use it wisely, your women expect it. Familiarise yourself with Guidance on using social media responsibly (NMC, 2015), then speak to your digitally mature colleagues, ask them questions and take a look at the digital maternity world. You will be surprised to see what’s going on, but it’s okay to be a spectator and not a player.

Recognise technology has the ability to enhance rather than replace existing services when staff actively participate, so get involved. Women will always need midwives but high demand and diminishing numbers make the role a daily challenge, so take all the help you can get.

Tips for digital leaders

  • You should be realistic and remember:
  • Your starting point is your end user
  • It’s better to digitalise right than to do it quickly
  • Return on investment is not just financial, it’s about safety and quality, with cost-savings taking up to 10 years to emerge
  • Go-live is always the beginning, not the end
  • Training must be ongoing, and support must not stop when a project goes live
  • Never be afraid to make use of others’ learning – something our Digital Midwives Expert Reference Group has embraced.

(NHS Confederation, 2017; Department of Health, 2016)

Julia Gudgeon is a digital midwife and a clinical advisor at NHS Digital


Department of Health. (2016) Making IT work: harnessing the power of health information technology to improve care in England. See: (accessed 13 February 2018).

NHS Confederation. (2017) New care models: harnessing technology. See: (accessed 13 February 2018).

NHS England. (2016) Better births: improving outcomes of maternity services in England. See: (accessed 12 February 2018).

NMC. (2015) Guidance on using social media responsibly. See: (accessed 12 February 2018).

RCM. (2016) State of maternity services report. See: (accessed 12 February 2018).