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Professor Ray Jones: Made By EPIC

Vitamin Web |02, June, 2021

Our very own Professor Ray Jones has been awarded an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List.  This award recognises Ray’s service to digital health and social care over an impressive 45-year career.  From leading million pound projects to pioneering initiatives and supporting postgraduate students and resaerchers, Ray has really made a difference to the world of eHealth.

To celebrate Ray’s achievements, the team at EPIC have put together some questions that they wanted to ask him to find out more about the man that as he says was ‘Made By EPIC’.

How did you get interested in eHealth/digital Health when you started?

My first degree was in Maths and Management Studies after which I worked as a Maths teacher for a year and then in the defence industry for a year on guided missile systems. And I thought either these things are killing people or they’re a waste of money. Either way I wanted to do something more useful to society, so I did an MSc in Operational Research with application in the health service and after that (1976) got a job at Nottingham University as Research Associate in Public Health developing a simulation model of health services. I moved from simulation models to GP systems and then to diabetes …..and onwards.

What kept you motivated/interested in working for such a long time in that specific domain?

I had thought that what I was doing was useful, I was interested in what I was doing, and seemed to be quite good at it, so why change?

What has been the most rewarding aspect of working within the digital health technology sector?

Seeing that at least some aspects of what I have done have had a positive impact on people’s lives

How have you managed to bring together people from such a wide range of stakeholders to work collaboratively on Technology and health care?

I think there are many people like you and me who want their work to be useful. It’s not unusual. And it’s not just clinical roles that can play a useful role – it can be engineers, designers, whoever. From the start, I have been ‘inter-disciplinary’ – my first degree was maths and psychology and economics and more. I find it interesting to hear about other people’s jobs and disciplines, and if you are really interested in their perspective it’s easy to find common ground.

How important has patient involvement been in your work?

Very. When I started working in diabetes in 1978 I learned from my mentor Tony Hedley and from the diabetes clinicians I was working with how people with diabetes managed their treatment, and I developed a computer system that gave patients a copy of their record. At the time I also happened to be living with someone with diabetes. Seeing those hospital records “Not to be handled by the patient” and seeing both from a professional and personal viewpoint how stupid that was, and knowing that patients (going back to Alison’s question) include people with lives of their own – architects, entrepreneurs, whatever – with ideas of how things can be improved it was clear that working directly with patient and community groups was important. From the start I was in Public Health – and community involvement has always been taken as “the normal thing to do”.

How do you maintain resilience when pursuing change in an industry/health system dominated by politics and inertia?

My parents said I was stubborn as a child – nothing changes.

Did you ever think when you started your career in Health Informatics, that eHealth would be as ubiquitous as it is now?

Probably not in the way that it has developed. As you know I started before the Internet, before mobiles, before IoT. But it was always clear that computers were going to be used for more and more aspects of healthcare.

What are your thoughts on the pervasiveness of digital technologies in health and wellness?

Similar to the pervasiveness of electricity and running water in the modern world – we’ll take it for granted until it goes wrong and through some disaster (perhaps caused by global warming) and then we’ll really be in the ****.

What one digital health technology do you think all current and future health and social care professionals should absolutely know about?

The simple thing of videocalls and voice recognition– and its extension into telepresence. It’s pervasive, simple, but also potentially can make a massive change to the way health and social care is organised.

What innovation or development in digital health technology during your career do you think has been most important, or has been most interesting/exciting for you personally?

Videocalls as above.

Do you have a favourite piece of research from during your career?

I suppose my first RCT (tailored information for cancer patients) published in the BMJ in 1999 was a memorable moment for me. Another thing – completely unpublished – was something I developed in MUMPS within the diabetes clinical system back in 1981 when I developed (before they were a ‘thing’) a data dictionary approach so that clinicians could set up their own ‘forms’ to add additional records to the core database. I thought it was pretty smart (!) and I probably should have tried to publish it.

What are you most proud of in your career to date?

Having helped a number of people, as PhD supervisor, get started on their research careers.

You have had a fantastic and wonderfully successful career and provided inspiration to so many. Tell us something we definitely haven’t heard before, however; perhaps something that you can look back and laugh at now that your achievements and contribution have been recognised on such a grand level.

You have probably heard it all before…… yawn….

Tell us one interesting fact about yourself.

My dad was a newsagent and we had a small shop that delivered newspapers around Wealdstone (NW London). So I used to do a paper round before school getting up at 6am, starting my round at 6.30 to get home by 7.30 and leave for school at 8am. One day I had left my bike outside the shop and when I went out with my papers to deliver found someone had stolen it. A couple of weeks later I was with a friend on a borrowed bike and saw someone riding my bike in the other direction. We turned and followed him, saw where he went with my bike then called the police. I got my bike back and was in the local newspaper as ‘schoolboy detective’.

I’d love to know what your professional advice to your 27 year old self would be and also who inspires you in e-health or beyond!

Think carefully about the balance between persistence and ‘letting go’. You need persistence – not to give up on something if you think it is worthwhile. But sometimes you can be ‘banging your head against the wall’ for too long and it would have been better to have given up and tried a different approach. I wasted many weeks of my life when I came to Plymouth trying to get funding via RfPB and had some 6 or 7 failed proposals. I think with the RfPB committee as it was and other aspects of support I should have given up sooner and tried for funding such as we got for EPIC. Also, to have confidence to try something ‘big’. 

Inspires me? Lots – Tony Hedley of course but also Harry Burns, David Spiegelhalter, and more.

What advice would you give to early career researchers and aspiring academics wanting to pursue digital health research careers?

Have confidence in yourself.

And finally, what does receiving an MBE mean to you?

That people recognise that people from many different professions and disciplines want to, and can, do things that are useful to society, including those of us working in digital health. It is nice to think that colleagues went to the trouble of completing and submitting all the forms – Made By EPIC

The EPIC Team congratulate Ray on his well-deserved award.