03 Sep 2021
by Alex Lawrence

Harnessing technology for the long-term sustainability of the UK’s healthcare system

The Council for Science and Technology and Government Office for Science recently published a report which suggests how technology can help address the challenges of an ageing population, the need to manage multiple comorbidities, and health inequalities, as well as difficulties within the system itself. The report calls out several challenges that were highlighted in techUK’s Ten Point Plan, such as the challenges created and resources wasted by lack of interoperability.

The opportunity presented in the report, co-authored by the Government Office for Science and the Council for Science and Technology, focusses on the how the application of a wide range of technologies “presents the possibility to transform health systems and create a more person-centred service. Successful integration of existing healthcare technologies could enable health system leaders to radically reshape the model of health and care delivery.”

Emphasising the need to build on the momentum of the digital solutions introduced during the pandemic, and for this change to be system-wide, the report sets out a series of recommendations which focus on:

  1. Fostering an environment for positive change across the whole system, to support current innovation and encourage further improvements
  2. Using lessons learned from other sectors, where digital technology adoption has been a success, to understand how to better harness technology in the health system
  3. Encouraging healthcare leaders to transform the way they work by incorporating technology and the ways in which members of the public access and engage with the system
  4. Promoting the key principles for successful use of technology in healthcare. These include creating a clear evidence base, engaging with potential users during development and implementation, and building widespread capacity in using new technology
  5. Targeting investment in the infrastructure and capabilities that will enable development of a more adaptable and resilient healthcare system, to make the most of available technologies and to future proof the health system for emerging challenges

The report also outlines two main priorities for change. The first is to focus on improving population health and supporting communities, furthering the Health and Care Bill’s focus on preventative healthcare and addressing inequalities. This should be implemented via the use of technology to monitor population health risk factors, promote and enable healthy behaviours, improve health literacy, and design user-centred approaches. The second priority is to re-engineer the health system to support integrated pathways for prevention and care via the use of digital consultation tools, diagnostics and advances in remote monitoring. The report suggests that for these priorities to be addressed, there are a series of interfaces between citizens, primary and secondary care teams, and remote monitoring services that can be better utilised.

There is a clear focus on the importance of securing a standard level of interoperability across the health service throughout the report: “The key to successfully redesigning the system around the interfaces is proper integration of technologies in a consistent way across healthcare delivery services. We also recognise the importance of additional interfaces, such as the flow of information between health services and social care or between the public healthcare and private industries.”

In order to demonstrate the process of setting up a ‘whole system’ approach to innovative health technologies across the full breadth of services, the report recommends that the Government set up two technology Demonstrators. These would encompass the whole health system in a region and trial the re-engineering of the system, running for five to ten years and providing a focal point for innovators to partner with local health systems to test new approaches. Among other suggestions, the report recommends that the Government create a campaign focussed on one chronic disease within a Demonstrator area, supporting citizens to better manage their own health.

The report further recommends that in addition to the Demonstrator areas, the Government establish a ‘National Centre for Health System Improvement’ to build the skills needed for system transformation. This Centre should work alongside NICE, the MHRA, and NHSX AI lab, implementing the ideas in the Topol Review (2019). The third recommendation is that the Government work with NICE, regulators and the research community to promote an evidence base that will underpin the effective use of digital health technologies as part of care pathways. Just as has been implemented for medicines, common standards around what evidence is needed prior to the rollout of a technology, expanding upon Digital Technology Assessment Criteria for Health and Social Care, should be developed for technology.  

This Report comes ahead of both the expected publication of the UK Government’s review into the use of health data for research and analysis, conducted Dr Ben Goldacre, as well as the expected strategy for the implementation of the Life Sciences Vision, published in August. The concerted focus across Government on the possibilities presented by digital health technologies to transform the health and care system is encouraging, and techUK will continue to monitor further developments.  

You can read techUK's Ten Point Plan for Healthtech here: https://www.techuk.org/resource/techuk-publishes-ten-point-plan-for-healthtech.html 

Leontina Postelnicu

Leontina Postelnicu

Head of Health and Social Care, techUK

Henry Rex

Henry Rex

Associate Director, Public Sector, techUK

Alex Lawrence

Alex Lawrence

Programme Manager, Health and Social Care, techUK

Charlie Wyatt

Programme Assistant, techUK

 

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Authors

Alex Lawrence

Programme Manager, Health and Social Care, techUK