The New Healthcare Revolution: Innovating in a Digital World

Author: Alex Atamian Edited by: Inês Barreiros

Whether perceived as a danger to society or the greatest advancement of the century, the shift toward digital technology in various sectors including healthcare is inevitable. This trend toward a digital health “evolution” can even be seen as a “revolution” against the stifled progress in improving consumer experience and care delivery methods. The London division of SIU held an event on June 15th, 2017 entitled “The New Healthcare Revolution: Innovating in a Digital World”, which was intended to bring to light the current shift in incorporating technological advancements into health and medicine as well as talk about how one could turn this into a viable business.

Our first speaker of the night was Professor James Barlow, professor of Technology and Innovation Management (Healthcare) at Imperial College Business School since 2003. The main focus of his research and teaching background include adoption, implementation, and sustainability of innovation in healthcare. His talk, which was entitled “From telehealth to digital health”, focused on how we are currently on “a tipping point” in terms of where we are with this revolution. Professor Barlow had two key points in his talk: the previous problems in the past decades and the models used to overcome them through current technologies. The original idea of “remote care” included telehealth, which had patients speaking to their physicians through a telephone. As technology advanced so did people’s ambitions about the potential applications of remote care. Unfortunately, up until this point in time, “…a lot of technologies [were] great…but when it comes to actually integrating them into the healthcare system… you run up against this massively complex world [with] complex relationships… institutional, professional [and] cultural silos”. The current emergence of the ‘internet of things’ allows for an unprecedented access to a constant stream of individualised health and wellness data, which allows for improvement in four major applications around digital health to provide care and support outside hospitals and care services: mitigating risks, prevention, education, and improving general functionality.

The director of Logic Health Consulting, Simon Jones, was our second speaker. Simon has held senior positions in acute hospitals, mental health, and integrated health and social care trusts within the National Health Service (NHS). His most recent role was director of long-term conditions and patient choice at NHS Direct prior to joining Inhealthcare. After noticing the ability to utilise an algorithm in an online setting, the number of nurses that answered the phones dropped from 9 million in 2011 to 3 million in 2012 because 24 million users were using the online algorithm. The algorithm in question allows patients to be monitored remotely by physicians after answering a series of clinically determined safety questions. For example, a patient who has recently been discharged from surgery can be monitored through the algorithm, SMS, or a phone call. The data collected from this reduces the need for patient readmission by alerting the discharge liaison nurse about high-risk patients. The switch from the phone call to the computer allowed for a larger audience to be reached at less cost to the user. During his talk, Simon also mentioned the divergence in the health system where current technology allows us to access a lot more information online through search engines as well as the proliferation of applications and wearables. Additionally, he talked about how “people love data” and there is a very large market for selling data, which helps with branding the product and developing the market. He then told the audience to “not just sell the data, but sell the story behind the data”. By this, he meant that the data should talk about the efficiency and efficacy as well as patient satisfaction of the product. Moreover, he spoke about embracing experimentation and risk, but also to have an exit strategy and knowing when to quit.

Our third speaker was Elizabeth Hampson, who is the director in Deloitte’s strategy practice, Monitor Deloitte, where she specialises in health innovation strategy and life science policy. She has worked at a senior level with clients across the LS ecosystem, from shaping policy with DH, Office of Life Sciences, NHS England and NICE, to advising on delivery and strategy at leading charities and various pharmaceutical clients. After having worked in investment banking, she mentioned how “clean data” no longer existed once she switched to the medical side of data due to the numerous exogenous variables (such as income, family size…) that affect patient outcome. In her talk, she mentioned how there was a big shift in UK’s approach to medicine: approximately 75% of the UK population goes online to gain health information, which minimises avoidable service use and promotes patient independence. She also spoke about some challenges that are associated with digital health, including financing and scale-up, addressing the expenditure gap in analytics, and improving the NHS pathways to aid in the development of digital platforms. She then ended her talk by posing important questions one must ask prior to fully investing in digital health: Are you going to help to develop money management by delivering outcomes at the same price? How are you making change? What is your population size? What can they access? Is there a need for it? Who will pay and how?

One could argue that we are in a constant revolution, given the speed at which technology advances. Although the transition to digital health may not result in a post-apocalyptic world where technology reins supreme like in the movie The Terminator, it does come with its kinks that still need to be addressed. This past July, the NHS suffered a large-scale cyber attack, which caused the cancellation of operations and other necessary procedures such as CT scans. This raises the question of how secure patient data really is. As patient data becomes more accessible for proper treatment and diagnosis, it also becomes more vulnerable. Based on the various talks we had, it seems that the switch to digital health is inevitable and exciting, but also something to approach with caution.