Discover how the NHS is evolving and adapting to technological advances thanks to pioneering leaders – could technology in healthcare be effectively executed in the world of health and medicine?

According to NHS Digital Academy CEO, Rachel Dunscombe, “Technology is the only option for the NHS to make significant gains in productivity and safety. All other avenues will give marginal gains but not the major impact our health and care systems need.” Ever rising demands on the UK’s National Health Service, skills shortages and an aging population, requires new approaches, knowledge sharing and fresh ideas.

Unfortunately, healthcare still experiences a wide divide between ‘IT’ and ‘the business’ with a lack of appreciation of each other’s issues. Government imposed constraints, knowledge shortages and a failure to leverage talent from outside the sector have led to many good ideas falling on stony ground. With a mission to change that landscape, the NHS Digital Academy was born.

Bridging the gap regarding technology in healthcare

The NHS Digital Academy is a virtual organisation set up to develop a new generation of healthcare digital leaders who can drive the information and technology transformation of the NHS. The NHS Digital Academy, through a partnership with Imperial College London, the University of Edinburgh, Harvard Medical School, provides a year-long fully accredited learning programme (Post Graduate Diploma in Digital Health Leadership) for digital change leaders. Global Knowledge was asked to leverage their expertise to produce the module on Programme and Project Management.

CEO Dunscombe links success with the ability to drive change through technology: “Leadership is essential in this space as digital is the platform for reimagining how we deliver health and removing geographical constraints and changing the skills mixes we need. This journey needs people who can tell the story of how we will revolutionise the way we work. This will have an impact for almost all the NHS workforce and so strong leaders who can build trust and seek win-win situations are essential to the momentum. Traditionally in healthcare, the gap between technology and delivery has been wide – the best leaders are now bridging this gap – getting everyone pulling on the same end of the rope for positive change.”

How technology in healthcare can drive improved health outcomes

The NHS itself does invest in innovation and the NHS Innovation Accelerator initiative can take credit for the development of numerous breakthroughs including a wireless sensor that improves the detection of sepsis in hospital patients, an app to help pregnant women monitor hypertension, and another that guides patients with minor injuries to treatment units with the shortest queues. However, there is still a shortfall in the leaders who understand and embrace technology and see it woven into the fabric of health service.

The use of technology such as artificial intelligence (AI) has been suggested as a way of managing and benefiting from the vast amounts of healthcare data that has been collected.

There is work to be done to explore the best use of AI with NHS Summary Care Records (SCRs) so that we can highlight trends, reviewing patient data from doctor’s notes and test results against clinical studies so that a patient’s condition can be identified and follow up tests or treatment suggested. In future, we could make use of data that is being collected from other sources, beyond what is gathered in the GP’s surgery, for example heart monitoring from fitness trackers or other at-home monitors.

Using technology to provide doctors with easier access to large scale studies, customised to an individual patient, could enable the analysis of a condition, genetic makeup and even social circumstances beyond what is currently possible. Ideas are not in short supply, developing the leaders to embrace those ideas and drive through change is the challenge and it is the primary goal of the NHS Digital Academy.

The shifting landscape

Of course, it’s not enough to just throw technology at problems and hope for the best. Technology adoption needs to be supported by cultural change whilst remaining focused on patient outcomes. Healthcare could learn much from DevOps, Agile and ITIL 4 development processes, where the co-creation of value through collaboration of all stakeholders is at the heart of what is delivered.

That means leveraging the best solution through collaboration between patients, healthcare technology organisations and clinicians. It is encouraging to note that a significant percentage of the NHS Digital Academy cohorts 1 and 2 are from clinical and non-IT backgrounds. The healthcare CIO of the future must not be dazzled by new technology, but rather apply technology solutions to healthcare in ways that co-create value for all stakeholders.

Stakeholder expectations are shifting, and the healthcare sector is no exception. Be it the surgeon reviewing new techniques through YouTube, cancer research using AI or the patient checking into the surgery on a touchscreen, expectations of new technology are sky high.

The next steps bring challenges of their own. Whether choosing the right architecture to switch to the Cloud in order to bring together a patchwork of diverse systems or managing the sheer volume of data provided by modern tools and medical techniques, there is a marked difference between being alerted to the value of technology and realising that value. The key to making technology work is a focus on value, speed, and agility.

Every healthcare provider must be led by people who understand and can execute this. This is where the NHS Digital Academy is supporting those who will lead the change. Dunscombe is passionate about this adding “The biggest capability gap in the NHS is leaders who can work with and at board level to fast track the opportunities digital can bring. Through the academy, we are slowly getting to the new world with digital and technology leads on Boards.”