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Making healthcare fit for the future

Tagged In:  NHS, Technology
Imagine a wearable device for patients with long-term conditions to help them manage their illnesses and spot potential issues early, saving a hospital admission and reducing pressure on clinical and nursing staff. It's the kind of smart technology that could transform healthcare for future generations. 

Innovation in technology

Technological innovation is seen as one of the key strategies to help the NHS deliver better care and value. However, it's also widely acknowledged that there needs to be a more consistent and coherent approach to evaluation and implementation. In the past, everyone from doctors and nurses to radiographers and physiotherapists have seen new technology and working practices improve their efficiency and productivity. However, because these innovations have often been implemented in isolation, the case for adopting them more widely has not been made. 

Five Year NHS Plan

As part of its Five Year Forward View, NHS England is developing test beds – sites where innovative equipment, systems or working practices can be properly tested in a 'real world' environment. A series of summer 'matchmaking' events, bringing together leading innovators with local groups of commissioners and providers, should lead to the formation of partnerships by the autumn and the designation of the test beds by December.
"The digital revolution is transforming our lives in many sectors but the health sector is lagging in reaping the potential rewards," commented the Government's Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Mark Walport. "The test bed initiative is a hugely important opportunity to bring together the needs of healthcare and the creative energy of industry to speed the implementation of digital technologies for patient benefit and to promote economic growth." 

The view from health professionals

As far as NHS employees are concerned, there's an element of preaching to the converted. Frontline clinical and allied health professionals have shown willingness to embrace new technologies, supported by academic, trade and research institutions. For example, the Centre for Innovation and Evaluation in Mental Health works closely with clinicians and practitioners, including psychiatrists and mental health nurses, to develop and test new interventions. And Canterbury Christ Church University's School of Health and Wellbeing was recently commended for its forward-thinking occupational therapy teaching, encouraging students to come up with ideas for innovative equipment or occupational therapy jobs.

In January NHS England launched an 'Innovation Accelerator', which offers 20 'health pioneers', including physiotherapy staff, opportunities to develop their innovations across the health service. Steve Tolan, Head of Practice at the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (CSP), said that physiotherapists are often 'natural innovators' and described the programme as an 'exciting opportunity' for CSP members. 

According to the Innovation Accelerator's co-founder, Dr Mahiben Maruthappu, the NHS could learn from Formula 1 motorsport: "Like healthcare, it involves people and technology operating in a potentially high-risk environment, at times needing continuous monitoring, while depending on the combined effort of experts from multiple disciplines. From a testing standpoint, cars are developed in innovation hotbeds, where several modifications and innovations are evaluated simultaneously to optimise performance... The time has come for similar centres of real-world combinatorial testing to be established in healthcare." 

There may be a lot of laps to go, but with the launch of the test beds programme, the NHS is at least on the starting grid.

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