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Executives and clinicians from across the healthcare ecosystem discussed innovation and digital transformation at the latest Imperial Business in the City event.

Participants heard from Professor James Barlow, Professor of Technology and Innovation Management (Healthcare) at Imperial College Business School; Dr Pramod Prabhakaran, NHS Consultant and Imperial College Health Partners’ (ICHP) lead for international business development and partnerships; and Omar Butt, a healthcare innovation expert at ICHP and Imperial College Business School alumnus.

Plenty of papers but slow progress

Academic papers have been written about telemedicine for over a century but adoption rates remain low aside from a few pioneering facilities like Mercy Virtual Care Centre in the USA.

This was one striking example given by Professor Barlow to show how health systems struggle to adopt new innovations.

Dr Prabhakaran outlined the need for health systems to innovate the healthcare business model to a new model based on prevention and population health, integrated primary care services, and a value-based approach to healthcare spending.

His colleague Omar Butt argued that the key to accelerating innovation is to ‘de-risk’ by reducing costs for all stakeholders, increasing the speed of innovation, and promoting collaboration and communication in the innovation process.

Three examples of how to ‘de-risk’ healthcare innovation

The speakers and audience members shared examples of projects that had successfully ‘de-risked’ the innovation process.  

  1.  “Get the health system to sell your innovations”

Omar Butt noted that many health products are traditionally brought to market in a very resource-intensive manner through large sales teams engaging with separate parts of the healthcare system.

Butt contrasted the traditional approach with how AliveCor took a system-level approach when introducing their Kardia mobile ECG devices to the NHS. AliveCor was supported by NHS innovation infrastructure such as the DigitalHealth.London accelerator, NHS Innovation Test Beds, NHS Innovation Accelerator Fellowships, and the Academic Health Science Networks including Imperial College Health Partners. These NHS initiatives helped AliveCor to demonstrate relatively quickly and cheaply how their products supported clinical priorities, to identify use cases in collaboration with end-users, and to roll-out their product across GP surgeries, pharmacies and community centres.

  1. Collaborative healthcare

Dr Prabhakaran explained that as little as 10 per cent of a population’s health is linked to access to healthcare. The remainder is made up of factors outside of the control of the health system such as housing, transport and education. This makes it challenging to deliver integrated services and patient-centric care.

Dr Prabhakaran pointed to Ko Awatea in New Zealand as an example of good practice - a health system innovation and improvement unit embedded within the Counties Manukau district health system. Ko Awatea has pioneered an integrated approach to healthcare improvement focussed on reducing health inequalities. The Counties Manukau system fosters collaboration between services including education, health, housing, income, and policing.

  1. Building a positive innovation culture

An audience member asked how the normally risk-averse healthcare system could learn to embrace the potential for failure that comes with innovation.

Professor Barlow highlighted that the Unscheduled Care Collaborative Programme (UCCP) launched in Scotland in 2005 as an example of a healthcare innovation programme that successfully promoted a culture of experimentation. UCCP was launched as hospitals were set an ambitious target to treat and admit or discharge 98 per cent of patients arriving in A&E within four hours. He said that this target and the UCCP programme’s whole system approach and ‘plan-do-study-act’ model of short term and incremental experiments gave clinicians a form of permission to try out new ideas within a clear risk management framework without fear of penalty.

More opportunities for health leaders

Professor Barlow and Dr Prabhakaran have developed the Executive Health Innovation Management programme at Imperial College Business School. This programme is the only international executive education programme that brings together participants from all parts of the healthcare ecosystem to address challenges in healthcare innovation.

Imperial Business in the City is a regular series of free evening events for executives. To receive information about our events and resources please subscribe to our newsletter and follow us on LinkedIn.