By Integrated Care Journal-
It appears that the pandemic has shifted the dial in favour of the digitisation of health services, meaning that years-worth of predicted technical development has been adopted in the space of one lockdown. These digital and physical shifts have made clear the potential that innovation could bring to level up the health system, benefitting staff, the vulnerable and, ultimately, every citizen.
Yet challenges still need to be addressed to ensure that the right infrastructure is in place to help its continued development and implementation. Executive Chair of Public Policy Projects (PPP) Rt Hon Stephen Dorrell questioned exactly this at the 2020 PPP Annual Conference, exploring the best possible way forward.
A changing mindset
Professor Sam Shah, Founder and Director of the Faculty of Future Health, suggested that everybody automatically goes to digital technology when thinking of innovation. Instead, he proposed, innovation should be considered as a much broader concept that can bring benefits to every area.
We must “free ourselves from the bureaucracy and governance that we have in place” so that we can “make it easier for those who want to innovate in the industry. ” This, he believes, will result in “better innovation adoption, a reduction in inequalities, and improved access to services. ”
To ensure innovation benefits patient care, communities and citizens must be kept at the heart of all development. Scott Sinclair, Business Manager for Digital Health at Siemens Healthineers, was optimistic about the UK’s current position. “Now is the first time in history that we are in a position to deliver the system and value to the patient,” he stated. According to Mr Sinclair, improved innovation means patients get swift care without sacrificing safety, creating efficiency gains across the health system.
To do this, he explained, the health service needs an overarching innovation strategy. “There are thousands of systems in place across the NHS all doing useful tasks on their own but there is no overlying structure”.
Instead, innovations need to be utilised as much as possible by “communicating across departments, across services, and across the country to make use of the specialties that we have to benefit the whole system. ” There is too much variation across the board, making it difficult to spread innovation.
Stephen Dorrell reiterated this point, suggesting that “the health service is often very innovative, but the problem is making that innovation available to all patients around the health service. ”
In order for innovation to create better results for everyone, the health system must forge more transparent relationships.
Nicky Murphy, Head of Healthcare Policy at Amazon Web Service (AWS), praised the “many amazing people on the ground” who are ready to implement any necessary changes. However, she emphasised that in order to help them, more clarity is needed. Common standards need to be produced through positive discussions with industry, local government and communities to best address the innovations they are in need of.
Professor Shah said it is still unclear “how we coordinate nationally but retain a locally delivered model that is supported and funded. ” Ultimately, it is at a local government level that requirements are best recognised.
Working with private sector partners is vital if the most cutting-edge technology is to be utilised. Ms Murphy emphasised this in reference to cloud-based technology which has been used extensively in responding to the immediate challenges of the pandemic. From research and innovation, data-informed decision-making and patient-informed services, this technology has allowed organisations to respond at scale as quickly as possible.
The work between the NHS and AWS was highlighted as a real successful public-private partnership when they used this technology to set up an automated messaging service that allowed the most vulnerable individuals to access personal and healthcare supplies – all set up within 48 hours and all thanks to cloud-based technology.
The data question
Mr Sinclair similarly emphasised the potential benefits that utilising data could bring to the health service. “The NHS has a hugely valuable asset in the amount of data it has going back so many years,” he said, but “that data is useless if we don’t turn it into information and inevitably make an impact on patients. ”
These benefits range from remote patient monitoring reducing hospital admissions, better research and development of treatments and medicine, and early detection of illnesses that could save thousands of lives. Creating a policy infrastructure that allows maximum access to data will drive insights crucial to future innovation.
All panelists recognised the challenges and fears that many organisations and citizens have over data sharing, especially when it comes to personal health details. Ms Murphy suggested that the way to overcome this is to make data sharing as clear and transparent as possible. The theory here is that people will feel more comfortable if they understand what their data is being used for.
Professor Shah reiterated that people ultimately want to help society. If the benefits that data sharing will bring to improved care are made clear, it will help make the process easier, he suggested.
The future digital infrastructure
In the broader and ever-evolving discussion between government, healthcare providers and citizens, looking to the successes and failures of other countries is vital. Many world-leaders in this space have been identified, ranging from Austria, Finland, and Belgium to Oman and China. These countries have, in their own way, developed an infrastructure that allows positive data-sharing to benefit the innovation of healthcare.
We must work together to create a fresh, collaborative, localised structure with free-flowing data. This will require linking all actors to maximise benefits for healthcare services. “Agitate and you will innovate” said Professor Shah, as innovating means benefitting our health system, improving our future, and ultimately, protecting patients.
Session sponsored by Siemens Healthineers and Amazon Web Services
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