Digital innovation in healthcare: more than just a great idea

  • Hannah Harniess
  • 29 January 2018
  • Posted in: Health & Social Care

For those of us who have worked within the NHS, we know the often frustratingly slow pace of change when trying to drive through a service improvement or implement a new idea. When this new idea is in the form of digital technology, the challenges can be even greater.

As a clinician who has spent time working on the frontline, I have seen the many opportunities for us to do things differently to improve patient care, efficiency, and workforce resilience. I have also seen fantastic examples of innovation driven by remarkable colleagues, but remained frustrated at the difficulties faced in spreading and sharing these successes across the system. As Professor Keith McNeil, former Chief Clinical Information Officer for Health and Social Care at NHS England said at the launch of a recent report on digital leadership in London's NHS: "Innovation is not just coming up with great ideas, but following up with implementation and spread."


The challenge

The digital health landscape is moving at pace, with exponential growth of  health apps, wireless and connected health solutions, sensors and digital medical devices, artificial intelligence, internet of things, wearables, big data, and personalised medicine. As a result, there is a wealth of innovative solutions vying for a route into the health service, many of which could offer real opportunities for addressing the current challenges faced within health and care.

Yet, despite this opportunity, implementation and spread of high quality digital innovations presents a significant challenge both to NHS decision-makers and innovators. One of the key challenges to both parties is the complex landscape. With a decentralised organisational structure, NHS decision-making and processes can feel daunting and opaque to entrepreneurs looking for ways to test and scale their technology. The complexity of the system is not limited to those on the outside, and it can be as confusing for innovative 'intrapreneurial' NHS staff wanting to implement high quality digital innovations.

In addition, in a complex and pressurised system like the NHS it can be hard for busy clinicians, commissioners and providers to distinguish the gems in the increasingly crowded market. Ultimately, this can result in lack of confidence in finding the right digital tool, and a propensity to stick with what we know rather than risk failure.

In a time of unprecedented austerity, it is also necessary to recognise the importance of access to funding that can support the implementation and testing of digital tools. Development of the Innovation and Technology Payment is one strategy that is helping to support NHS adoption of innovations through removal of financial and procurement barriers.


Cutting through the noise

This is where innovative programmes like the DigitalHealth.London Accelerator come in. We know that digital innovations have the ability to transform health and care, and we want an NHS that is sustainable, forward-looking, and efficient.

I can honestly say that after spending the last year working with the London AHSNs and leading the Accelerator programme, I am optimistic for the future of the NHS and the ability of the system to adopt new technologies to create a health service fit for the future.

The Accelerator works with 20-30 high potential digital health companies each year, and supports them to develop and deploy solutions to some of the most pressing challenges facing the NHS. For entrepreneurs, we provide in-depth knowledge of the complex NHS landscape to help them refine, develop and scale their innovations.

Our network of partners reaches every NHS trust across London and through this, the programme focuses on engagement with clinicians and healthcare experts, working collaboratively to get to the root of health and care challenges and find appropriate digital solutions. Working on both sides of the equation means innovations are more likely to be appropriate to providers' needs, and therefore more likely to be implemented and spread.

The impact of the programme has far exceeded our expectations, and implementation of digital technologies across London - from apps that help people to manage their diabetes or avoid "no shows" for hospital appointments, to tools that save time for nurses and paramedics“ are transforming London's NHS services.

In just 12 months, we are proud to have driven some of the best digital innovations into the NHS. Working with a first intake of 31 high potential digital health start-ups we helped to achieve 50 new pilots and contracts across London, raise £15.1m of investment, and create 120 new jobs for Londoners. And that's just the start. This year we're working with another 30 companies, and will shortly be recruiting for a third intake. The potential for these companies to improve the way the NHS delivers and manages care is huge, so watch this space to hear how they get on.


What next?

There are of course many other areas of challenge that will take time to overcome. They include the need to further develop payment models which facilitate the uptake of digital solutions, data sharing agreements, building on progress around interoperability... the list goes on and we will continue to work collaboratively to push for change in these areas. However, our reflection this year is the importance of starting small and starting somewhere. Programmes like the Accelerator can provide headspace to support that process and we'd love to hear from you.

If your digital health company is seeking engagement and traction within London's digital health space, connect with us for help with opportunities to connect with NHS stakeholders, investors, patients, and other innovators. We will be opening for the next intake in just a few weeks, so apply to take advantage of a range of (free) support.

If you are part of the NHS, please get in touch to learn more about how our cohort can help you, your organisation, and most importantly, your patients.

@DHealthLDN @hharniess

  • Digital Healthcare
  • Digital Public Services
  • healthcare
  • Article Author

About Hannah Harniess

Hannah is one of two interim Programme Directors for DigitalHealth.London’s Accelerator Programme. She is jointly responsible for programme delivery, which supports 20-30 high potential start-ups and SMEs each year to develop and deploy solutions to some of the most pressing challenges facing the NHS.

Prior to joining the Accelerator, she was work…