Innovation is happening, but funding requires a universal solution

12 Mar 2020 | 2 min read

Digital Health Rewired is billed as the place to connect health IT leaders and find out about the latest digital health innovations. Looking at the post event stats on the event’s website, the numbers seem to back that up. Certainly, Rebecca Watkins and I were able to connect/reconnect with senior managers, CIOs and CCIOs working on interesting and ground-breaking projects involving healthcare data.

The event was spread over eight main theatres and three fringe events, all running concurrently. Additionally, there were plenty of stands for companies to present their ideas to the digital health community. I spent most of my time between Digital Transformation, Shared Care, AI and Analytics and Interoperability, although I did nip into the Health Data Lab to listen to Tom Denwood’s talk on the NHSD Emerging Data Vision and Strategy.

The message I got from the talks came across loud and clear, the developments in health data must have three characteristics: encourage collaboration; enable and inform action; and enshrine openness and transparency. All this must also put the patient at the heart of care.

So far so good, but one minor problem is that for generations health services have been managed and delivered through the silos of public health, primary care and acute care, not to mention mental health and social care. If our aim is to put the patient at the centre, this means any patient journey could touch one, or all, of these services. Information will be collected and stored in a thousand different systems with no clear and consistent interface and no clear owner. This point was picked up in a recent Expert Briefing by the Health Service Journal.

All the projects we saw are taking place in individual locations up and down the country. They rely on the walls between the silos coming down and there is a general feeling that everyone is pulling in a similar direction. For example, experimenting with similar approaches to inform operational decisions and population health management. The biggest challenge as always is who going to pay for it. This is not a significant problem at the early stages of these initiatives when we are finding our feet with machine learning, artificial intelligence, electronic patient records. Take all the acronyms together and it is a bit like alphabet soup: ML, AI, EPR/EMR/PMRs. However, when it gets to the point where we try to realise the potential positive effect on patient care, are we all going to be prepared to share our toys if we have had to spend our own pocket money on them?

We are learning how to do this gradually, but it is dependent on innovators being prepared to put their hands into their own pockets, start-ups pushing a vision and existing companies realising how the market is changing. Digital Health Rewired demonstrates that we are on the brink of a genuine revolution, but we are still waiting for the final nudge.