Innovation Talk

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Written by Andrea Solana (Full-Time MBA 2014) and Imperial Women’s Network committee member. 

‘Innovation in Healthcare Technology’ was the topic of discussion at the latest the Imperial Women’s Network event (15 May 2019). With the help of some leading industry professionals, and an audience of over 40 Imperial alumni and guests, the session explored how innovation can be introduced into healthcare technologies.

Chairing the discussion was Ian Davies, an optometrist who spent the majority of his career with Johnson & Johnson before retiring in 2018. Ian now focuses on coaching and consulting healthcare innovation startups.  

Ian framed the beginning of the discussion by outlining three types of change:

  1. Incremental Change – the most common form of innovation involving small process improvements that do not have a significant impact on the current structure or model.
  2. Substantial Change – this involves process improvements of a larger nature through a lean exercise to make the structure or model as flexible, lightweight and effective as possible.
  3. Transformational Change – this is the disruptive form of innovation and involves identifying new technologies within the existing market.

The current challenge for the industry is the fact that demand and need for healthcare has outstripped the pace of innovation. The key is to work out how to achieve transformational innovation and then how to successfully embed it within the marketplace. 

Ian introduced four the panellists, who then took up the discussion:

Dr Syed Jafri, (Full-Time MBA 2007), Global Head of Clinical and Medical Affairs, Linde PLC’s Hospital and Home Healthcare businesses

Syed focused on how all innovation starts with a small idea which needs to be scaled. He discussed how pilot studies can be adopted and moved into a mature system that benefit patients and provide quick learning. He gave the example of COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) and the RightCare Pathway pilot run by the NHS in conjunction with other partners. The trial highlighted that patients often delay seeking treatment of early symptoms, which led to hospitalisation. But if they treated their early symptoms, then in most instances hospitalisation could be prevented. This could lower costs and save more lives.

Syed went on to explain that unless a pilot study is performed in an environment that is similar to the one in which affected patients live, the results will not necessarily be reliable. Therefore it is important to ensure that studies do not take place in curated population environments and that the environment matches the characteristics of the actual population with the affliction.

The aim for innovation is that it is effective, usable, reliable, scalable and valuable.

Dr Amber Kennard: Director, Deloitte (Deloitte UK Health Innovation team)

Amber began by explaining how once innovations have been validated they need to be rolled out, which can require a very different approach to that traditionally used. Amber discussed a technology that is still in its infancy but has shown great potential to be commonplace in hospitals in the future. The solution called RITA – ‘Referral & Intelligent Triage Analytics’ – seeks to quickly and efficiently assess patient triage. In its early implementation, RITA has been accurate more than 90% of the time in predicting the urgency status of patients in hospitals. It is only in instances where the confidence level of the assessment is too low that a clinician must review. The solution allows for real time capacity assessment, faster patient triage, quality assurance and education all whilst saving clinical time and money.

Dr Jean Nehme (MSc Surgery and Cancer 2011), CEO and Founder of Touch Surgery

Jean believes that training is critical in the adoption of new procedures and technologies. He noted that there are currently 5 billion people around the world without access to safe surgical services. Disease that stems from surgery causes more deaths worldwide than many major illnesses. Jean has helped develop an interactive training tool called Touch Surgery to help simulate surgery and provide a guide to every step of a procedure. Surgeons have the direct ability to test their surgical knowledge and rehearse for surgery. The tool is now being used around the world and is also helping to deliver training for doctors in their residency periods.

Jean’s final advice to those wanting to innovate: First, innovate in an area that you care about otherwise you will give up when times inevitably get difficult. Second, be ready to fail multiple times and be agile before you achieve success.

Liz Shanahan, Non-Executive Director of Chelsea and Westminster Hospital NHS Foundation Trust

Any innovation needs to be integrated into existing health systems, Liz explained as she discussed how innovation is brought into the NHS.  

The Trust has a 300-year history in innovation and has displayed excellence in Robotic Process Automation (RPA) technology, HIV Care and Cancer Clinic fast tracking. The focus is on staff-led innovation looking to seek out progressive ideas internally as opposed to looking outside. The Trust hired four people specifically to help to embed innovations within the organisation which increases the likelihood of staff adopting change.

A highlight of this approach was the introduction of a mouth-care improvement programme which resulted in a reduction in hospital acquired pneumonia and a 67% reduction in mortality.

Q&A 

A Q&A session followed, which focused on the next biggest innovation that will come from Artificial Intelligence and what the biggest barriers are in bringing innovation into health care.

The panellists agreed that due to the aging population and current trends, the next biggest innovation is likely to be around keeping people well longer as opposed to individuals experiencing prolonged periods of deteriorating health.

A big barrier and challenge in funding innovation in health care is that investors often view the health care industry against traditional business models which results in health care innovations sometimes being challenged too early and thereby potentially cutting off good ideas before they have the opportunity to get off the ground.

Our thanks to all the panellist for their time and expertise. You can find out more about the Imperial Women’s Network and join the LinkedIn group here.

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