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There is a pressing need for disruptive innovation in the health system. I don’t mean simply introducing more technology, I mean cutting out overspecification and cost by fundamentally rethinking how we deliver healthcare.

The requirement to drive disruptive innovation is placing new demands on healthcare leaders. Health leaders need to be systems leaders who nurture innovation, promote value-based healthcare, foster integration and collaboration, use data intelligently, and implement global best practice.

To add further complexity, the strategic context in which health leaders are trying to innovate is also changing fast.

I believe there are five currently unanswered questions that could determine whether health innovation efforts succeed or fail in transforming healthcare.   

Five big unanswered questions regarding the future of health innovation

  1. Will regulators, funders and providers drive or block change?

To make any kind of transition to new healthcare business models, we need powerful incumbents like the NHS to drive new collaboration between public and private sectors; large and small businesses; and patients and clinicians. This effort needs to be long-term, sustained and political, or else short-term pressures like funding could hinder progress.  

  1. How will the existing health supply chain engage with tech giants?

From Uber launching a medical transfer programme to Apple Watches monitoring for irregular heart rhythms, we are getting used to seeing big tech companies move into the health space. But do these companies have the appetite to engage with the regulatory and systematic complexity of health and social care? Only time will tell if incumbent care providers choose to collaborate or keep big tech at arm’s length. 

  1. Will tech giants really disrupt… or will they just add further cost and complexity?

Technology adoption has been one reason for spiralling costs of care over the past fifty years. Though they may improve outcomes, new devices and treatments aren't cheap, leading health leaders to speculate whether advances in digital health remove or add cost and complexity from the system. 

  1. How will patients and consumers respond?

Most experts envisage a future where patients take more ownership of their own care and health, perhaps helped by apps or other technology. The hope is that patients live healthier lives, reducing demand for clinical interventions. But changing behaviours to help adoption will be a significant challenge.

  1. Will new healthcare models help resource-poor health systems, or will they reinforce access problems?

New healthcare business models may exacerbate existing problems with access to healthcare services in resource-poor health systems as well as richer societies. For example, new digital care models that rely on high-speed internet services may be unattainable for those outside major cities.

It is a fascinating and challenging time to be working in healthcare. There is broad consensus on where healthcare needs to be in terms of patient-centric, value-based integrated care. However, there are also significant barriers to change such as organisational silos and rigid funding models which all countries need to overcome.

The Executive Health Innovation Management Programme, delivered by Imperial College Business School and Copenhagen Business School, is for leaders from across the healthcare ecosystem seeking to navigate this changing and uncertain health landscape and deliver successful health innovation projects. Each participant brings a relevant, real-time health innovation challenge to the programme and works collaboratively with other participants to develop an action plan over the course of the programme.  It has a unique multidisciplinary and international emphasis, and is the only health leadership programme that involves participants from all parts of healthcare.

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James Barlow

About James Barlow

Chair in Innovation and Technology Management
Professor James Barlow is Chair in Technology and Innovation Management – Healthcare. His research looks at the adoption and sustainability of innovation in healthcare. He teaches on MSc International Health Management programme and on several Executive Education courses.

You can find the author's full profile, including publications, at their Imperial Professional Web Page