5 Ways to Make the NHS A Leader in Digital Health Innovation

2022-11-23 |  Su Jones

The digital evolution is happening so the question is why is it not happening at pace in healthcare? Digital healthcare technology (DHT) has the power to address some of the biggest challenges the NHS faces. One of the barriers is people’s sensitivity to having their data collected and shared. But better data will lead to better digital innovations which will lead to better diagnosis, treatment, and management. So, in the end the question we all need to ask ourselves is whether we are willing to share our data to save lives.

To get the most from new and evolving tools, the NHS needs to become an environment that supports and promotes innovation. The NHS is still reeling from the effects of the pandemic. In England alone around 7 million people are awaiting elective procedures, which is the largest backlog since records began, and it lacks the human and financial resources to catch up. Digital health tools can change this narrative by supporting the accessible and efficient diagnosis, treatment, and management of many conditions. By managing demand for health and care services it has the potential to improve patient and carer experiences while relieving workforce pressures.

In the coming years DHT will inevitably become a greater part of the service the NHS offers. As an organisation it has the potential to become a world leader in incubating and rolling out tech innovations that improve patient outcomes. Industry’ willingness to invest will no doubt be a measure of the NHS’ ability to create a favourable landscape for DHT.

Here are five ways the NHS can begin to seize this opportunity.

Define the value of digital tech

New principles and processes are required to properly evaluate the level and quality of digital health tech solutions. This includes cost efficiencies, but also the improvements a digital tool brings to patients' lives. For example, how does it enhance, complement, or disrupt the patient pathway and enable carers and clinicians to do their jobs more effectively?

NICE has a role to play here as an internationally recognised approval body using its experience in HTA and clinical pathway support. The key challenge for NICE will be capacity and speed, both will be required to reflect the pace of innovation. Evolution of assessment methodologies will be needed if the value of digital health technology is going to accurately reflect its role in prevention.

Develop standardised classifications

Digital health products can function in a number of ways including as a medicine, or as a complement to a medicine, a medical device, or a digital component. They can also sit across multiple patient pathways and disease areas. Developing standardised classifications that reflect their varied capabilities and benefits would reduce some of the barriers to licensing and procurement.

Become a better innovation partner

Developing and building digital tools is a challenging process with plenty of pitfalls. Understandably, tech entrepreneurs and firms will take their innovations where they have the backing of a partner willing to share their risks, support the testing and development of new digital tools and offer rewards for success that fairly reflect the efficiencies they can create.

Given its size the NHS has the capacity to do this. By developing transparent mechanisms for the assessment and funding of innovation, it can build innovator confidence. For example, it could offer a period of exclusivity for first-to-market DHT, while protecting intellectual property.

Balance decision making power

Carers, clinicians, and managers working within Integrated Care Systems are the people who truly understand the health needs of the local population, and which digital health tools would have the greatest positive impact. But this crucial knowledge needs to work in tandem with NHS-wide policies that drive the adoption of digital health technology. Driving adoption at speed and scale has been a long-standing struggle for the NHS with biomedical innovation. While top-down approaches and incentives can be successful, these will need to be balanced by the pull-on innovation from the local systems.

Grasp the data opportunity

As the use of digital health technology grows, the value of the data it captures increases too. Data in isolation is of limited value, but when aggregated and analysed it can drive insight that changes decision making regarding approaches. Collecting healthcare data at the scale the NHS offers has the potential to change the way it approaches healthcare utilising the insights into diseases and treatments that will improve patient outcomes. The opportunity to capture real time data, such as Parkinson’s wearables, improves care in real time by signalling when dose adjustments are called for.

The NHS is a unique organisation and there are no single blueprints to follow when it comes to integrating new technology. But by implementing tech-friendly policies such as these it can take advantage of its scale and interconnected nature to become a globally leading incubator for DHT innovation.

To discuss how we can help health systems and tech innovators work effectively together, get in touch with the PEN Life Sciences team via our contact form, or by emailing ben.donaghue@penpartnership.com