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Digitally Transforming Healthcare: a life science vision

Digitally Transforming Healthcare

From left to right: Angela McFarlane, Vice President – Strategic Planning, Northern Europe at IQVIA, Dr Tim Ferris, National Director of Transformation at NHS England, Rosalind Campion, Director of the Office for Life Science, Professor Ian Abbs, Chief Executive Officer at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust and Dr Bob Klaber, Consultant general paediatrician and director of strategy, research and innovation at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust.

Digitally Transforming Healthcare: In partnership with IQVIA, Chamber UK hosted a discussion around digital healthcare innovation in the United Kingdom. IQVIA, the third largest employer in the life science sector in the UK, are looking to help turn the UK’s potential as a global life sciences superpower into a reality.

The discussion was chaired by Angela McFarlane, Vice President, Strategic Planning, Northern Europe, at IQVIA and joined by experts in the field, including the National Director of Transformation at NHS England and the Chief Executive Officer at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust.

The first half of the discussion focused on healthcare innovation in the life sciences with McFarlane probing the panellists with key questions provided by the audience prior to the event.

Watch the video of the full event here

Can the UK become a world-leading health innovator?

The first question centered on IQVIA’s goal of assisting the United Kingdom in becoming a world leader in health innovation. Dr Tim Ferris, National Director of Transformation at NHS England believes that it’s important to approach this question with a “firm” response.

“There is only one answer to that question because if you aren’t optimistic then you are going to fail. The real question is – what are the challenges we are going to face in our quest for this? Thankfully, I have found that there isn’t a lot of disagreement about what these challenges are.

“One really important challenge relates to what areas we should be going after because it’s a target-rich environment. I would like to point to the life sciences vision because that guides us on what to go after.

“From my perspective, the challenges facing healthcare delivery all come back to one problem – and that is the demographic changes of most western countries and the ageing of the population. For example, the issue of bed capacity in hospitals – when planning was being done 20 years ago, they were banking on technologies developing in a quicker way than they have done. So, that optimism bias 20 years ago has led us to the position we are in today.”

Tim and Ros
Dr Tim Ferris answering a question

Using the life sciences vision as a road map

The life sciences vision was a key theme throughout the discussion. The vision was published last year and outlines the government’s ambitions to stimulate a thriving UK life sciences sector.

Rosalind Campion, Director of the Office for Life Science (OLS), says that there are two main parts of the life sciences vision:

“The first plank of the life sciences vision is about delivering system change. Last week, we announced four more of our healthcare missions which are all about taking a big leap forward in terms of seeing how we can tackle population health issues.

“The second plank is about what we can do right now. How do we work as we did during COVID, in terms of having a singular focus on one issue?

“Over the past few months, there has been a succession of ministers yet there has been a surprising amount of commonality between what they’ve all said. Economic growth – yes, learning from COVID – yes.”

The value of innovation adoption

Innovation adoption refers to the practice of certain innovations moving from the experimental stage to being ‘part of the furniture’. Effectively, it’s when innovations are no longer “innovative” and are the norm. For this to happen, innovations have to provide a service that meets the needs of a community.

Professor Ian Abbs, Chief Executive Officer at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, believes that many of the UK’s current innovations are not “penetrating the issues we face”. He added:

“Most people would agree that there is no shortage of innovation in this country but the conundrum is that many of them are not penetrating the issues we face.

“One of the issues which have tussled with is the fact that the model of innovation adoption is filled with complexity and cost and we haven’t yet thought about how we can change that model. I think we could develop a substitution model whereby for each innovation that is adopted we strip out an old one instead of keeping them both. I think this model is the only long-term viable economic opportunity.”

Ensuring local communities are front and centre of a digitally enabled healthcare system

When society introduces new technologies, it is often met with some level of skepticism from sections of the population. The Coronavirus pandemic and the introduction of new vaccines to combat that is a perfect example of this.

To try and combat this skepticism, engaging with local communities about new innovations could be key. For Dr Bob Klaber, Director of Strategy, Research and Innovation at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, the language used in medical communication is vital to breaking down these barriers:

“We deeply overmedicalise things and make things far too complex. We all know in our hearts that data innovation is going to be critical moving forward but we have a duty to bring communities in on that energy because people have suspicion about it.

“We need to be smart with data and it is absolutely critical that we help the general public to understand the importance of that in order for us to be preventative about care.”

Digitally Transforming Healthcare – Final thought

Innovation is vital to ensure countries continue to move at pace and scale. Given the stark pressures the NHS is under, the health and life science ecosystem must find solutions to improve population health and reduce inequalities. Fostering a digital health powerhouse is an essential and reachable target to achieve. We have been given a stark reminder in recent years of the importance of innovation in a medical capacity.

However, all is not lost and the UK is on the cusp of a digital revolution in healthcare, capitalising on one of the largest patient datasets in the world. Dr Ferris made the point that without optimism, we will fail – a mantra the whole ecosystem must take forward to implement change.

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