The digital revolution in healthcare is well underway, and although the intelligent healthcare systems of the future are an inevitability, experts say a reality check is perhaps needed first.
At the ongoing Med-Tech World 2023 summit in Valletta, Malta, a panel of experts, including the National Director for England’s National Health Service (NHS) Innovation Accelerator, discussed the key issues that need to be tackled amid the buzz of attractive technological inventions.
“In my role, we look at innovations with a real-impact, real-life picture. We ask, what can impact the NHS positively and help right now? When we talk about the future, in the UK at least, it’s about how we maintain what the NHS is doing now for the next few decades,” said Konrad Dobschuetz, National Director of the NHS Innovation Accelerator and chief enterprise officer at UCLPartners.
“We’re not talking about the latest gimmicks; it’s about maintaining and improving the current standard of care.”
The NHS Innovation Accelerator has delivered around £38m ($46m) in savings by helping to scale high-impact innovations across the NHS via partnerships with 15 Academic Health Science Networks.
Digital divide persists
Rajnish Mankotia, NHS consultant surgeon and co-founder of The Gut Clinic, concurred about the need to take a step back. He mentioned the digital divide that is still an issue across the UK.
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“There are two million people in the UK who don’t have internet access. There are ten million who lack basic digital skills. To me, an intelligent hospital starts with the very basic things. We need strategies to empower not only clinicians but also patients.”
The NHS is addressing the digital divide. It has devised a framework to tackle issues like technology accessibility, data access, digital skills, and patient trust. However, a report by The Communications and Digital Committee, a select committee of the House of Lords, found that the UK Government is neither taking necessary nor sufficient action to tackle digital exclusion, adding that millions of citizens are falling behind.
The panellists also mentioned the nature of healthcare’s “postcode lottery,” citing how services that are available via one provider may not be available in another. Dobschuetz expanded this to a global scale, highlighting the importance of addressing health inequality.
Dobschuetz adds: “From an Earth population health standpoint, we should be looking at how we can help patients around the world, people in a basically clean slate healthcare system. It’s perhaps more of a philosophy conversation, but we are really forgetting about this huge unmet need.”
The panel, which also included Softcare Studios CEO Valentino Megale, Lapsi Health CEO Dr Jhonatan Bringas Dimitriades and professor of digital health Georgi Chaltikyan, was unanimous that education and global collaboration are imperative to create more equal digital health systems.
The future will inevitably arrive, but [its success] is dependent on how smooth that arrival is, and how it will be distributed. Global collaboration is key,” said Georgi Chaltikyan, professor of digital health at Deggendorf Institute of Technology, Germany.
“The world needs thought leaders in order to make the digital transformation smooth and efficient whilst tackling the challenges already present.”