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Digital technology in an evolving NHS: how will innovation deliver improved outcomes, transform workloads and support sustainability?

With NHS England developing its new 10-year plan, building on the success of the Five Year Forward View, this is an exciting time to think about the potential that digital technology holds for improving outcomes and supporting the sustainability of the healthcare system.

As headline sponsor for the 2018 Health and Care Innovation Expo, Teva hosted a plenary session on the Innovate Stage with leaders in digital healthcare to discuss the value that innovation holds for the sector. Visitors to the Innovate Stage heard from Kevin Grogan, Managing Editor of Scrip, who, as Chair, opened the session by reflecting on the range of digital tools and services available to the NHS, but noted that the NHS would need modernise its infrastructure if it wanted to take full advantage of these.

The first speaker was Ben Bridgewater, CEO of Manchester Health Innovation, who reflected on his career as a cardiac surgeon and how this made him realise the positive potential impact of data in driving improved outcomes and transforming service delivery. Ben then went on to summarise his ‘four digital laws’ that are essential in shaping how the health and digital worlds interact:
1. The customer is already digital and will determine next steps;
2. Digital platforms will disrupt existing value chains;
3. Digital will create winners and losers;
4. Digital will drive collaboration.

These rules should be front of mind for the NHS and industry in understanding how to utilise digital innovations and how the environment will change, Mr Bridgewater said. With so many new technologies, apps and services becoming available, it will be important for NHS leaders and healthcare professionals to think about how outcomes are measured and what the KPIs are that justify the introduction of digital. As the CEO of Health Innovation Manchester, it’s Ben’s role to work together with partners across the local health economy to introduce and drive the use of interventions that improve outcomes and support sustainability.

This was followed by Richard Daniell, Executive Vice President of Teva, who focussed on the potential that digital innovation could have in addressing long standing healthcare challenges like medicines adherence and optimisation. For example as 83% of the UK population have a smartphone, and over 500m people worldwide use a health app, there is an enormous opportunity to make significant savings while improving use of existing healthcare resources. Richard outlined that Teva is developing a smart inhaler with an app that tracks usage and performance, trains patients to improve adherence, and communicates results to healthcare professionals and carers. Other possible solutions include utilising apps to monitor and track medicines adherence and to share the data with carers, families and healthcare professionals, and using 3D printers to print multiple treatments into one tablet, at a precise dose that gives the best efficacy. Richard was clear that Teva wants to partner with the NHS to drive forward the use of combined digital and traditional innovations to support transformational change.

Building on this, Karen James, Chief Executive of Tameside and Glossop Integrated Care NHS Foundation Trust spoke about her experience of using digital to support integration across difference service areas. When Karen initially joined Tameside and Glossop in 2013, they found that local A&Es were over exposed to referrals and admissions from residential care homes in the area. The Trust leadership realised that this was not in the interest of the patients or the NHS. The solution was to introduce virtual consultations via video messaging software with the care homes to support diagnosis and to solve minor health challenges. Over time, the approach has led to a reduction in A&E admissions and attendances, providing a saving to the local Trust while also improving patient experience. The service has now also been expanded into palliative care, showing the growing confidence in digital and the possible utility of the technology. Karen said that it was essential to invest in technology and ensure that they connect IT gurus and clinicians to realise the transformation.

Finally, Dr Sam Shah, Director for Digital Development at NHS England reflected on why it’is important to use new technology. He believes that there are fundamentally three needs to be filled: clinical need; emotional need; and a practical need. Ultimately, clinicians need to be clear about what need they are trying to meet before introducing new technologies, and that they must empower patients along every part of the pathway to see change and improvement. For example, facial recognition technology has the potential to save time in emergency situations by providing accelerated access to patient records, while automated voice recognition software could transform 999 calls by identifying the caller and their location instantaneously. However, he noted that there are a number of barriers that are affecting the use and perceived value of new technologies, including access to good quality data, the integration of innovation into existing services and the challenge presented by existing regulatory structures.

The session ended with a short Q&A with the audience. The panellists stressed the importance of leadership in driving change across local healthcare economies with Tameside and Glossop singled out for its excellence in this area. Furthermore, both Ben and Sam discussed the significance of having open systems, open data and ease of use to ensure that patients are able to make better decision about their care, and to ensure that local leaders are able to stratify data and deliver healthcare interventions earlier. Furthermore, Richard noted the importance of the new 10-year plan and the potential opportunity this presents to accelerate digital transformation for the NHS.

The consensus on the panel was that technology can provide very real, measurable improvements in health outcomes; that the individual pieces of the framework are gradually falling into place but there remain more steps to come in joining up the initiatives to provide end-to-end capability; and above all, digital innovation will be driven by collaboration across healthcare professionals, policy makers and industry. But above all, we can and will do more.

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