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Healthcare Innovation in Scotland: The Challenges

Lynn | 01/02/2017

What is the future of our healthcare system? There's a lot more to its progress than meets the eye.

What is the future of our healthcare system? While many industries witness innovation advance at a dizzying pace public bodies carry a stigma of being slow to adopt new ideas, but there is a lot more to the progress of the our health industry than meets the eye.

The health industry is gripped by a number of challenges; demographic changes, political ideologies and technological upheaval are all contributing to large scale problems in healthcare systems. The NHS is a treasured institution, but idealising it can be counterproductive; like every industry, it needs change and disruption.

Thankfully this is not a predicament which has escaped the NHS and the organisations around it, and the will to face challenges head on and become a more progressive force has never been stronger. It’s an exciting space to be working in; we’ve recently begun a project with the Digital Health & Care Institute, one of the Scottish Government’s Innovation Centres, to help boost awareness and engagement with the work it does in facilitating innovation and collaboration between Scotland’s universities and businesses in the eHealth space. Our involvement with the project has been leading us to think about the broader challenges facing the health industry, particularly the NHS. Grappling with every challenge is a daunting task, but we see three in particular that we believe are key to making the NHS a lead innovator.

Disruptive Innovation Within The NHS

Often cast around as a tech buzzword, disruption is a very real factor affecting every industry; even some of the most respected institutions have found themselves fighting to remain relevant. The key to surviving the tide of disruption is innovation. Being an innovative organisation means being flexible, dynamic, and adaptive; not only coping with disruptive forces but predicting and riding them. Public services are traditionally very cautious — a failed experiment isn’t just lost money, it may be lost lives — but with major demographic change looming the NHS must find a space where they can investigate new technologies, processes, and ways of thinking that benefit society.

To achieve this, innovation can’t be something which is performed at the fringes of the organisation, it must reach the very core. Innovation around the edge can produce great results (such as faster and smarter medical equipment,) but innovators need to understand the core problems in order to properly tackle the big picture challenges.

At Screenmedia we follow the process of design thinking — an end-to-end way of working which focuses on uncovering meaningful, behaviour-changing insight that allows us to approach and solve problems in ways that address genuine wants and needs of end users. Design thinking allows us to ideate a greater range of possible solutions from the ‘safest’ to the most disruptive. The ultimate goal of the process is to create human-centred solutions. To instill a culture of innovation within the NHS and allow design thinkers to work at the heart of the organisation would enable the NHS to cope with the shifting service requirements of our society.

Bringing Certification into the 21st Century

The second challenge we see is perhaps not so broad-ranging but still challenges the risk-averse NHS. Certification is a heavily regulated area of our healthcare system, and rightly so — equipment, systems and medications which are not up to standard are rejected by the certification process. However, it isn’t a system without flaws.

Startup organisations are some of the most disruptive organisations in today’s society, yet they often lack the resources to endure the monetary and time costs of getting a device through the certification process. Many rely on launching a minimum viable product and iterating to become better over the course of months or years. Often these devices have become readily adopted by consumers (such as Fitbits and Withings sleep sensors) but are considered inadmissible by the health service.

Every day patients generate huge amounts of personal data from their interactions with consumer devices, but none of this can be harnessed by their doctor. Inflexible data protection rules hamper those users who are keen to share their personal data with their doctor to provide a fuller picture of their health. Enabling a parallel system where patients can enter their data into a secure (and separate) section of their medical record is one of the proposed solutions, and could greatly increase the information available to healthcare practitioners and allow for increased telehealth opportunities, cost savings, and ultimately better diagnoses and treatment of patients.

A Tech-Averse Ageing Population

The final of the three major challenges is the shifting demographics within our society. Older generations are taking up an increasingly greater percentage of our population and lifestyle changes have lead to a rise in chronic conditions such as diabetes. This places strain on the healthcare system, its personnel, and its budgets.

Our changing population is one of the most difficult challenges the healthcare industry faces, as it requires a sea change in our understanding and approach to healthcare.

As much as technology can facilitate a more comfortable and citizen-centred health service, older generations are the most averse to technology adoption. Unlike Millennial digital natives, learning and understanding the norms of digital interfaces is a skill learned much later in life for older generations and the pace of change and innovation can lead to confusion, mistrust and rejection of these technologies. Adapting technologies to suit older generations requires simpler and more intuitive interfaces, robust and future-proof manufacturing, and a high degree of automation — they need to be able to work without command.

An Outward Looking Future

Building the future of our healthcare system is no mean feat. The NHS is one of the most important organisations in our society and making it ready for the future is a task which must be undertaken both carefully and radically. Scotland is no stranger to the task; throughout history we’ve been famed for our medical innovations and this legacy is kept alive today by numerous forward-thinking Scottish organisations and public sector initiatives. What we must not forget is that we are not alone in tackling these issues; many of our neighbours are in the same situation as us — having small, ageing populations and limited resources, but curious and progressive societies. Scotland has always been an outward looking nation, and that may be key to our success once again.

If you’re looking for a digital partner to help you transform your health services, Screenmedia’s years of experience and expertise are only a phone call away.

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