Demos Daily: Winter is coming. HealthTech is here.

Healthtech has already added significant value to healthcare systems around the world. Innovation to help tackle pressure on the NHS, improve diagnostics, and improve efficiency in our healthcare system has already been crucial in Britain, particularly in the last few years. With the current pandemic, delivering new healthtech well is both more important and more challenging than ever before. The Health Secretary has today announced a pilot of the new NHSX contact tracing app on the Isle of Wight – if successful, we could be seeing public facing health innovation on the largest scale in generations. In 2018, we argued that both technologists and healthcare professionals should be more open to collaboration to allow healthtech to play a more transformative role in our healthcare system.

Read the full report here, and the executive summary below.

Executive summary

The NHS is under immense pressure. Faced with an ageing population and growing demand for its services, coupled with an overstretched workforce, it is facing significant challenges in delivering its services and meeting targets, particularly during the winter months.

Yet healthcare technology can play a transformative role in this perennial cycle of crises. The Secretary of State, Matt Hancock, has championed healthtech, but his ambitious proposals may fall flat if misunderstandings and frustrations between service providers and technologists continue.

On the 22nd of November, Demos hosted a roundtable in partnership with Roche Diagnostics, to discuss these pressures and understand how innovation and technology can help provide a solution. The event included NHS representatives, researchers and technologists from across industry who spoke on the opportunities and barriers in using healthcare technology to ease the burden and prevent future crises.

This paper covers potential technological solutions and the key insights that arose from the roundtable. Rapid diagnostics, genetically-tailored medicine, AI-assisted analysis, and new models of remote or self-administered care are all examples of exciting technologically-enabled developments. However, the roundtable also highlighted the challenge of adopting innovation across the current system.

Healthcare professionals emphasised that shifting to an outcomes-first approach and sharing more of this data with patients was essential, to ensure a focus on innovating rather than optimising existing inputs. Further, they noted that technologies were sometimes not designed with the realities of clinical practice in mind. Other problems included inflexible targets, an inability to unlock funds to invest in new technology, and a lack of integrated data-sharing, standards and forecasting.

We recommend that both technologists and healthcare professionals need to be more open to collaboration and listening to one another. For example, when developing standards for healthcare data and interoperability, the NHS should have an open process involving established industry and new start-ups; those same companies also need to listen to and involve on-the-ground clinical staff in the development of their technological solutions.

The healthcare system also needs to take a more outcomes-first approach, publishing more data and providing that data to patients, which will ensure that the NHS is open to and rewards innovations that solve real problems and improve patients’ quality oflife, directly or indirectly.