Comment Blog 5 June, 2019

Reform Digital Health Conference: Setting the Agenda

The speed of today’s technological progress has allowed for incredible breakthroughs, such as the faster detection of breast cancer using artificial intelligence, or better access to healthcare using telemedicine. It has been almost thirty years since the NHS launched its first IT strategy. However, the healthcare system is still heavily paper based and digital transformation plans can often be implementation disasters. In this context it is crucial to ask whether digital healthcare has delivered on its promises.

As a digital healthcare enthusiast, it can be hard to ask that question and face the hard truth that it hasn’t always worked so well. However, at Reform we truly believe in the value of creating forums to have these honest conversations and hopefully it’s what this conference will bring today.

The event will start off by looking at the peaks and troughs in the history of digital healthcare and draw lessons from the mistakes that have been made. There is only so much that can be gained through digitising existing processes. Real digital transformation is about understanding organisational change and the outcomes that need to be achieved.

There are certain traps that can be avoided, such as having a ‘tech will solve it all’ approach. Digital technologies do not absolve anyone from having to think hard about the reforms that need to be put in place to create a better system. Yet, there are some important technical requirements that need to be addressed in order to harness the power of healthtech. Having a solid data architecture is crucial for the delivery of better direct patient care and the development digital tools that can improve the quality and efficiency of that care.

Poor design is yet another trap to avoid. Patients and healthcare practitioners should play a crucial role in the design of these technologies. Co-creation and design do not only ensure that healthcare technologies respond to the needs of the user, but also to how they use the tool.

Many of these digital healthcare tools necessitate the creation of partnerships between patients, NHS organisations, the private sector and universities in order to be developed. The nature of these partnerships is key to the creation of a trustworthy healthtech ecosystem. There are many debates about what these partnerships should look like and what a fair apportioning of value is between patients, the NHS and industry when there is access to data held by the NHS to create a product or service.

For the UK to truly harness the power of healthtech it needs to have an international outlook and understand what lessons it can learn from innovation in other countries. It will also need to be forward thinking and look at what the future of health and care might look like.