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Thinking outside the box

Where does the ability to innovate truly come from for health tech to become the catalyst for change it has the promise to be?

In healthcare globally, there are multiple examples where the delivery of health has looked to businesses elsewhere for inspiration that has often been instrumental in change. The example wheeled-out regularly is the experiment that Great Ormond Street Hospital in the UK made in the 1990s to consider how a McLaren F1 pit-stop ‘business process’ could be applied to the operating theatre. An increase in safety and a huge development in the concept of the safe theatre came from this experiment. Health can see how business processes like those applied through the Lean concepts by Toyota can truly reform the way health is delivered in a more efficient and safe manner. In the last decade in the UK, the NHS National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) adopted Toyota’s lean processes and applied them to the way in which permission to start a clinical trial is put in place. Under this initiative, the start time went from over 120 days to less than 15 days in under 12 months, all supported by digital solutions that learned and continued to learn. 

Throughout the definition of a modern healthcare system and how it can be achieved in the UK, Australia and the US, we have seen comparisons made to Uber, Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Netflix, AirBnB and LinkedIn. All truly disruptive to how their relatively uniform businesses have been delivered for years. 

It is a really difficult concept though, to consider that the wealth of knowledge inside medicine and healthcare delivery may need to look elsewhere to learn lessons and then consider how to apply them. However, when we look at digital health, then the lesson-learning ought to be easier, particularly in Ireland, where the digital community is so huge. Why would the agencies responsible for the delivery of health in Ireland not look to other digital-first organisations to provide advice, guidance, lessons learned and experiences? It should not matter whether the experiences of those organisations are in media, entertainment, IT delivery or indeed in global health — they will all have something we can learn from and help us build an ecosystem that is robust and ready to truly place the digital experience at the heart of the delivery of care.

Creating an ecosystem will not always be something that we can make happen for no cost. Resources will sometimes need an incentive to become part of it. That is relatively easy when we are talking about people in health, but the altruistic motive of those who are ‘in the know’ when it comes to digital may not always be at the forefront. With that in mind, a minimal cost may sometimes need to be placed on the value of the experiences and knowledge. After all, we don’t expect architects to give us free advice on how to build a new primary care centre, so why would we expect digital experts to do the same for a national IT solution?

The role of an IT professional, I have always said, should be business agnostic within reason, and yet I have personally been in healthcare technology for 20 years. My peer group of CIOs though ranges across a width of technology backgrounds, and that, as described already, is the only way I believe we will be successful.

As Rear Admiral Grace Hopper is often quoted as saying: “The most dangerous phrase in the language is, ‘we’ve always done it this way’.”

eHealth Ireland and the team delivering digital solutions in the HSE are here to do it differently.

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