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Digital transformation in the NHS: What we learned from ‘GIANT Health 2018’

Dec 2018

On the 21st and 22nd of November, we joined healthcare professionals, NHS suppliers, investors, advisers, startups, and government policymakers at the GIANT Health Event 2018 – a festival of tech and innovation in healthcare. Now in its third year, GIANT Health is growing rapidly in the size of both its venue and attendees.

Over 2,000 delegates with a passion for innovation attended the event to connect with each other and learn more about the biggest issues facing our NHS today and the improvements which are being made by harnessing technology and digital solutions.

At Bit Zesty, we work with a number of clients to develop digital products for the healthcare industry. The GIANT Health Event was a great opportunity to keep abreast of the latest developments in healthcare innovation and consider how we might apply new ideas together with our clients to address the most pressing challenges facing the NHS.

The major topics this year

Some of the key themes addressed at GIANT this year were: preventing health conditions, VR and simulation, personalised healthcare, and patient self-management.

In this post, we’ll discuss a few of these themes in greater detail and share the insights we gained from the speakers and their projects.

Prevention is better than cure

The main stage on day one was dedicated to the topic of preventive healthcare. Speakers emphasised the importance of using technology to ensure prevention and early detection rather than later, more expensive health interventions.

One speaker and a key player in this area is Babylon, a company leading the way in the use of Artificial Intelligence for healthcare. Babylon is already putting primary health care into the hands of individuals through their mobile symptom checker app and GP video services. At GIANT, they spoke of their digital-first projects in developing countries. For instance Rwanda, where there are around 11 million people with only 1000 doctors to care for them. Healthcare services here are scarce and difficult to access, but over 8 million individuals have smartphones which can be used to deliver health care and advice straight into their hands.

Another area of interest for speakers was a personalised approach to healthcare through technology. By using mobile phones and other technologies to monitor elements of an individual’s daily life, digital services can take this data and use it to make personalised recommendations for improvement. A panel of dementia experts, including representatives from companies such as Memrica and Hometouch and the charity Alzheimer’s Research UK, highlighted the crucial role that personalised healthcare can have in improving motivation and encouraging people to make healthier lifestyle choices. In the case of dementia, it is estimated that around 1 in 3 cases could be delayed or prevented by implementing lifestyle changes to reduce risk-factors early on. In light of statistics like this, personalised healthcare may be the ultimate preventative measure for many health conditions.

We were keen to hear these ideas on the use of digital technology in health prevention to see how they might be relevant to our clients. We worked with SXT, a healthcare social enterprise, to develop a digital service which helps patients diagnosed with an STI to notify their partners anonymously, increasing notification rates and ultimately helping to reduce the spread of STIs. This service focuses on the savings and improved patient experience which can be made by early detection and prevention of STIs.

Managing health and chronic conditions

As well as on the ‘Protect, Detect, and Diagnose’ stage, the topic of personalised healthcare also featured heavily in presentations given on the ‘Managing Health and Chronic Conditions’ stage.

Personalised healthcare and data are popular areas for digital services – from apps that track our physical activity and sleep, to those that offer advice and self-management practices targeted at patients with specific conditions.

For instance, in the UK, there are around 3 million people with type-2 diabetes, a figure which is growing by 100,000 each year. One speaker, Rune Bech from Liva Healthcare, estimated that around 56% of these patients could reverse their condition within 12 months by making informed lifestyle changes. It was interesting to hear from health startups who are already working on innovative patient self-care solutions for type-2 diabetes management. These included a personalised diet and recipe platform, an app which harnesses data from smartphone sensors to identify the behavioural patterns which lead to negative health outcomes, and an app designed to help patients learn about their condition more effectively.

Listening to these talks on preventive and personalised healthcare methods emphasised the need for greater patient self-care and self-management to reduce the burden on health services and empower the individual. This highlighted to us that our current work with Bridges Self-Management is extremely valuable – here we are creating a digital service full of resources to help individuals with neuromuscular disease and those who have experienced a stroke to manage their conditions.

Preventative, patient-focused, and personalised services certainly appear to be a huge part of the future of innovative, effective digital health solutions. The projects on show at GIANT highlighted that digital self-management solutions have the capability to streamline care, improve patient education and engagement, and improve communication with doctors and care teams to get the most out of face-to-face consultations.

Keynote speaker: Hadley Beeman, Chief Tech Advisor to Health Secretary

A highlight of day two of the GIANT Health event was the speech and Q&A session by Hadley Beeman, the Chief Tech Advisor to our new Health Secretary, Matt Hancock.

It is well-known that the new Health Secretary is keen to fully implement technology and digital solutions across the NHS. Hadley Beeman discussed the future of technology and innovation in the NHS – including some key standards and expectations which will need to be met to make implementing technology and digital solutions a success for the NHS.

As well as fielding questions about how the new tech agenda will work with social care, not just the NHS, and the difficulty of adopting new technologies across such a large and often slow organisation as the NHS, Hadley Beeman raised a few key issues about the importance of achieving common standards which are worth sharing here.

There is a clear need and appetite (amongst the government, health care professionals, and the public) for scaling-up technological innovation across our NHS. Yet, before this transformation can happen, there needs to be a set of standards achieved in our health service as it stands, as well as with any new innovations that are taken up across the health service. Existing systems and processes and potential new solutions which aspire to be adopted across multiple hospitals and trusts will need to meet core standards for interoperability, data sharing, and security. As well as this, there will need to be a focus on joining up primary and secondary care services and data – a process which is already underway with the new NHS App.

Hadley’s emphasis on establishing these core standards highlighted that, whilst there is a huge desire and a real need for innovation in the NHS, it is going to be a gradual process and one which policymakers are committed to making happen in the most effective, robust way possible.

GIANT Health 2018 demonstrated that there is great scope for more innovation in healthcare and that the NHS is ready for digital solutions which are innovative, effective, cost-efficient, and ultimately improve outcomes for patients.

We look forward to seeing what insights the GIANT Health Event will offer next year!

To find out more about our work with clients in the healthcare sector, take a look at some of our client stories.

Alternatively, contact our Technical Director, Matthew, on +44 207 125 0160 or drop him a line on [email protected].