Digital health is transforming medical care across the world. But where next for an industry with unprecedented demand for its services? Last week at Digital Health World Congress in London, two key themes emerged that the industry needs to address.
A story that has long stuck in my head is from the book Creative Confidence where the authors Tom and David Kelley tell how Doug Dietz designed the perfect CT scanner set to transform scanning in a US children's hospital. Until, that was, he witnessed it in use. The children were terrified of being placed in the large noisy machine, consequently the slots were often cancelled. They had to be rebooked when an anaesthetist was available to ensure the patient was calm enough for the scan to happen. The shiny new CT scanner, next to useless.
That theme continued at Digital Health World Congress. New technology side-lined in the NHS because it's too difficult to use. Tales from patients who found their treatment more traumatic than the disease they were fighting.
Technology is often designed to solve the problem and fight the disease, but it's rarely designed with a patient first mindset. It can be intrusive, scary and sometimes painful - but ultimately it will save a patient's life or make them better, so does it matter? Yes. It does matter when we can approach it differently and achieve the same results when we design with the patient in mind.
You only had to listen to Adrian Byrne, CIO of the University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust, to understand the complexity of a modern hospital and the technology within its ecosystem. The question is, how do we know we're taking the right road? You don't. Lorna Rodd, CIO at VHI Health & Wellbeing, talked of the complexity of understanding whether you were taking the right road. Often you just don’t know, but as with any new technology, adopting a fail fast mentality will help us find the right solution in the end.
Rodd went on to discuss the "human speed of healing", something that is often far slower than the latest technologies. With a patient-first approach in the design, this can be built into the technology and its adoption, ensuring patients can heal at an optimum speed for them.
Connectivity remains one of the biggest issues facing the health sector.
The cost savings of being able to access data at home were mentioned by more than one expert across the two days. From coronary and elderly care to asthma, it's clear that better monitoring at home will drive down costs, improve care and free-up the time of health care experts.
Mark Milton Edwards, Head of Products & Solutions & Digital Healthcare at TEVA pharmaceuticals, highlighted the importance of monitoring treatment for people with asthma. Patients often have limited interaction with their specialist. They may forget to use their inhalers during periods of good health. Doctors only hear of how the patient has felt in the past few days. All of these factors can mean treatment is often not as successful as it has the potential to be.
Three people a day die from asthma in the UK, according to Asthma UK. Automatic data collection allows a doctor to understand how a patient has been every day since their last appointment. It will also remind the patient to take the medicine they need every day, not just when they are feeling ill.
It doesn’t end there. We know connectivity is important. By 2024, the NHS is committed to everyone having access to digital consultations, and clinicians being able to access patient records wherever they are.
Deepak Samson from Ethelcare highlighted the opportunity for engaging with elderly patients, if we're able to give them the right technology. The cost savings are enormous if we can get this right. Effective technology has already had a profound effect on patient care, but there is so much more. One such example is the collaboration between Bradford Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and GE Healthcare. They have built a command centre – like an air traffic control – at Bradford Royal Infirmary to revolutionise patient flow as part of an AI-powered hospital control centre.
In the next ten years we will see digital health transform medical care throughout the world. Connectivity and patient first design will be at the forefront of that.
As for the scanner in the US children's hospital, despite having limited budget, Doug and his team thought about the problem and came up with a creative and relatively cheap solution. They created some decals and fixed them to the scanner. A script was created for the medical professional taking the child through the scan. Rather than going for a scary scan, they were now about to pilot a rocket as it went to space. The patient satisfaction rocketed, with a simple patient first addition to an existing technology.