by GK Strategy 1st May, 2018

Dr Data will see you now – the challenges and opportunities of tech in the NHS

Ten years have passed since the Mid Staffordshire Hospital scandal first came to light. The incident brought patient safety to the fore – so gross was the scale of malpractice at Mid Staffs that it led to the establishment of the Care Quality Commission, and an entire redesign of how we regulate health and care providers.

As with many areas, the NHS is increasingly looking at technology as a way to address some of the human failings which led to the Mid Staffordshire crisis – but recent events such as the Cambridge Analytica scandal shows that tech is not without its own failings, nor free for human influence.

As a result, those working in medical technology should be prepared to face regulatory challenges in the coming years.

The potential of technology to improve patient care is huge, and a balance of regulation will be required so as not to stifle innovation.

I recently heard Professor Tim Briggs talk about the Getting It Right First Time (GIRFT) programme he chairs, which is opening up some astonishing datasets. The programme collects and aggregates large volumes of data from hospital trusts and the first set of data released pertains to 650,000 episodes of care from orthopaedic and spinal activity from up and down the country, allowing the NHS to examine unwarranted variations in care.

A handy example of the utility of this data comes from two neighbouring trusts in the northwest, which carry out the same maxillofacial surgery (surgery of the head and neck) with very different results. One trust has a readmission rate of 8% post-surgery, while the other has a readmission rate of 85%.

By collecting and benchmarking this data and sharing best practice between trusts, the programme will improve patient outcomes, whilst delivering efficiencies estimated to save the NHS £1.5bn annually.

Technology isn’t just improving patient care in hospitals, but in our homes too. There are now apps that deliver medication to our door and remind us when to take it, reducing prescribing errors and improving medication adherence. However, the very same app will need to collect, store and share patient data to be effective, which raises questions about data protection.

Regardless of its potential, there are plenty of challenges ahead. Healthtech and the wider tech sector have thus far managed to avoid government intervention, but with the Facebook scandal growing and General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) about to come into effect, policymakers are under increasing pressure to safeguard personal data.

There are also battles to be fought from within the sector. In health, as with the wider economy, technology is changing ways of working, which can have knock-on effects downstream. Patients in London are now able to have a GP consultation via an app, which has prompted resistance from local doctors and commissioners who are concerned it will undermine existing practices.

Organisations working in health and medical technology must think about engaging with policymakers and healthcare leaders head-on, rather than waiting for regulations to come their way. The NHS has no choice but to accept the adoption of technology, but this will not come without resistance in certain quarters and regulatory battles with which to contend. Those who stand out and are proactive in engaging with the policy will see the benefits while those who don’t risk being lost in background noise.

GK can help your organisation navigate the complex and competitive health market. For more information contact andy@gkstrategy.com

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