Navigating the digital health landscape
The complexity of the path a digital health innovator has to navigate is daunting and matched by the naivety of those who start out believing it must be a straightforward one.
This contradiction became apparent whilst I researched the digital health policy landscape for NHS Digital in my previous role with mHabitat. NHS Digital wanted to understand how it could smooth the innovator’s journey so that the public and practitioners can benefit from digital technologies in the NHS. However, I discovered that no one organisation can make this happen; rather there are multiple organisations that have different responsibilities and influence over the innovation pathway. They are not always facing in the same direction or co-ordinating their efforts.
This insight will not be a surprise to anyone working in the field and it is reinforced in Reform’s mapping of the regulatory and compliance process for digital health. In tune with MHabitat’s findings, they conclude: ‘there is a lack of oversight of the whole regulatory process for data-driven technologies as no single body is responsible for it. There is also a lack of coordination between different organisations’.
The consequence of this complexity for innovators should not be underestimated; getting things right or wrong can be the difference between realising a game-changing idea or sinking without a trace. This is why Reform’s work with NHSX to assist innovators’ understanding of the regulation and compliance aspects of the pathway is so timely. You can find the various assets they have developed here.
However, this is only the start. We have an intransigent problem that information, assets and resources are sprinkled around the internet in such a way that an innovator needs a love of detective work and a predisposition towards tenacity if they are to make sense of it all. In my new role at a social-purpose digital health company, we see this problem often with the start ups we support, who simply do not have the bandwidth to second guess the system.
Innovators would benefit from curated resources that are easy to navigate and personalised to particular circumstances and needs. This leaves innovators to focus on doing what they do best - creating digital products and services that makes things better for people accessing and working in the NHS. The system will remain fragmented, but if system partners can at least face in the same direction, they could start to simplify and explain the digital health pathway. Everyone will benefit from that.