NHS bets on digital health at Innovation Show

The North West is currently one of the major hot beds for digital health innovation in the UK. Trusts across the region are utilising technology to improve patient experiences and coaching programmes are helping NHS clinicians improve the spread of innovation.

Taking place at Aintree Racecourse on 2 May, the Innovation Show highlighted not just what is happening in the North West, but the entire range of digital healthcare developments taking place across the UK.

Hosted by the Innovation Agency, the show featured presentations from those working across the NHS, as well as exhibitors who have developed products and services designed to benefit healthcare.

Opening the show, Gideon Ben-Tovim, chair for the Innovation Agency welcomed all of the attendees to Aintree and remarked upon on what the day signified. The event marked both the 70th anniversary of the NHS and a much more modest five-year anniversary for the Innovation Agency. And as shown by the number of digital health exhibitors and speakers, the show was intended as “a showcase of some of the great innovations taking place within our region” Ben Tovim said.

Chief executive, Liz Mear, chief executive, Innovation Agency chaired the day’s presentations and made a pertinent statement about failure when it comes to innovating.

“When we step out on an innovation journey, sometimes things don’t go as plan. We want to make sure that we’re not frightened of that.” Mear said.

Failure is a well-established factor in healthcare’s history and at the show, this was made evident by the inclusion of the Museum of Failure. A collection of innovation failures, the Museum was displaying examples such as Thalidomide, synthetic tracheas and most embarrassingly, the NHS National Programme for IT – one of the organisation’s most expensive blunders.

Leading the morning’s talks was Dr Samantha Roberts, director of Innovation and Life Sciences, NHS England. Roberts originally aimed to have a much more ambitious talk around innovation but realised that “the more you read almost, the less you know”. Roberts clarified that the use of innovative products within healthcare is not “entirely clear” and is a “complicated area”. However, Roberts’ point was perhaps that the range of products currently being developed for the healthcare industry is so exciting that it’s okay not to know everything about the digital health field.

Working in her position, Roberts helps commission a number of national programmes and demonstrated the busy work of the NHS through its collaborations with organisations such as the AHSN Network, SBRI Healthcare and the NHS Apps Library.

To help adoption of digital technologies, Roberts stated that there is a need for a change in behaviours surrounding innovation. Whether it’s seeing how services affect the end-user, offering financial incentives or knowing who should be in charge of overseeing digital innovations, Roberts highlighted a need for wide-scale change.

And perhaps most importantly, digital innovations need to have evidence that they work. From data collection to efficacy of products to cost effectiveness, Roberts’ presentation highlighted how high-quality data is needed so we know that an already cash-strapped NHS can be financially supported by digital developments.

Following Dr Roberts, Sasha Karakusevic from NHS Horizons Team led a presentation on the topic on the need for integration across the NHS.

Karakusevic has been involved in large-scale change in the NHS for around 30 years and began by showing off an image of a developing tooth germ. The image was shown as a way to highlight that ‘in a well performing system, everything has a time in place’. Perhaps discussing the changes taking place in the NHS, Karakusevic stated how the changing health system can potentially fall apart if the correct choices aren’t made.

The core purpose for the NHS is helping patients throughout the UK, Karakusevic mentioned. However, with increasing populations and limited resources, healthcare leaders need to ask what innovations are needed to deliver the healthcare communities actually want.

“Is it about innovation creating flexibility and rapid learning? It’s possible to go in the wrong direction if we don’t understand what patients want.” Karakusevic said.

Perhaps one the most exciting developments taking place within healthcare is the use of 3D printing. Dr Mark Jackson, director of research & Innovation, Liverpool Heart & Chest Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, discussed how the tech is being used to educate patients with heart disease.

A lot of the benefits of 3D printing for patients come down to being able to see anatomically-correct models of organs. For Jackson this is no different and he explained how his team were using the technology to teach patients and healthcare professionals what was happening within the organ. For patients, this reduces their anxiety going into surgery but for surgeons, they can gain a better understanding of the procedure ahead of surgery.

Jackson’s work surrounds closing holes in the hearts for adults and children. The Trust is using 3D printed heart models for pre-surgical training, potentially resulting in better patient outcomes. Surgeons can try out different sized devices, so they use the tools that are close as possible to the patient’s anatomy.

The biggest challenge however, Jackson pointed out, is getting the service funded on the NHS. With the high cost of 3D printers, NHS clinicians like Jackson need to show the cost-effectiveness of 3D printing within routine clinical practice.

Dr Matt Kearney, national clinical director for cardiovascular disease prevention, NHS England and Dr Julia Reynolds, associate director for Connected Health Cities and head of programmes, Innovation Agency, talked about cardiovascular diseases and the need for a broader agenda to combat what is one of the biggest killers in the UK.

Besides from promoting the importance of cardiovascular health through public campaigns, digital tools were mentioned as a way to help people monitor the healthiness of their heart.  Now, digital health companies such as Inhealthcare, LumiraDX and AliveKor are working with the NHS and the Innovation Agency to help increase the range of technologies available to healthcare professionals and patients to prevent cardiovascular related deaths.

The Innovation Agency and indeed the NHS is clearly a big advocate of using digital technologies to monitor diseases and it seems that healthcare is now shifting towards accepting the benefits of wearables and other devices.

Of course, it wasn’t just speakers from the NHS highlighting the developments occurring across the UK; the show also featured a range of exhibitors displaying innovative technologies.

Helping to reduce unnecessary usage on the NHS is Catch (Common Approach to Children’s Health). Delivered as a service (and an app), Catch was developed for parents of 0-5-year olds to help them receive health information for their child at home, so they don’t have to unnecessarily visit the hospital.

Also exhibiting was House of Memories, a unique service for people suffering from dementia. Led by the National Museums of Liverpool, House of Memories uses memorable objects to help dementia sufferers spark-up conversations with their loved ones. There is also an available app into which loved ones can input their own pictures, so the person with dementia can potentially remember moments with their family or friends.

Liverpool-based digital health company Red Ninja has developed the Safe Steps platform to help reduce falls, a relevant service considering that every serious fall costs the NHS £7,500. Six old people are falling over every minute in the UK, resulting in 40% of admissions from care homes coming from falls. The Safe Steps platform includes a digital risk assessment to show how likely you are to fall. The service is about making the most of data to help care homes assess the risk of each of its residents. It then produces an action plan for the individual, potentially improving lives and reducing pressures and costs to the NHS.

The past few years have seen a real increase in both the awareness and adoption of digital technologies on the NHS. Digital health has been seen as both a saviour to health systems around the world and an overhyped industry – but discussions from the Innovation Show took a more considered approach. The NHS and Innovation Agency know there are countless solutions on offer to help the health service run more efficiently. The challenge now is to choose the right ones and to have them adopted at either national or local levels, where improvements to patient experiences can really be seen.



Reece Armstrong is a reporter for Digital Health Age. Coming from the North East of England, Reece has an MA in Media & Journalism and a BA in Popular & Contemporary Music from Newcastle University. Reach him on Twitter or email via: reece.armstrong@rapidnews.com

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