The past, present and future of innovation in healthcare

By Tracey Watson, 7 July 2018

Tracey Watson head and shoulders shot standing by canal

When I was asked to take part in the NHS Digital #NHS70innovations campaign I found it  tricky to pinpoint one area or a specific innovation that has transformed health care delivery over the last 70 years – there have been so many.

The greatest social innovation by far has been the actual introduction of the NHS itself.

It is only when you travel abroad and compare other health care systems to our own, you realise the very philosophy our National Health Service has been built on  – free at the point of care – tends not to be available in most other countries. The use of technology and the adoption of innovative ways of doing things differently will help the NHS deliver and improve healthcare for our citizens while protecting the very principles we all depend on.

Technological innovations that are really grabbing my attention at the moment are things like:

Gamification for health. I love the way that clinicians are using gamification to help make children’s stays in hospital go more smoothly and helping them cope better with managing their health conditions.

I’m really excited about the development of augmented reality (AR) and its usage in health, we are already realising the benefits of using AR in clinical teaching environments and surgery.

AR lenses were introduced a few years ago and are controlled through voice and hand gestures. In the future, lenses will be controlled by brain waves – imagine the possibilities this brings for healthcare!

It’s hard not to be able to visualise a world where we access our screens and keyboards through projections on a wall or hovering in front on you and the data stored only in a cloud.  With ultra-high definition video streams and 3D binaural audio, online consultations will sound like real life.

Since the completion of the Human Genome Project in 2003, experts have envisaged a world in which personalised medicine can become a reality.  As science and technology moves forward, patients will be prescribed medications and dosage customised to their unique genomic background. Technology advances in this area will also help patients feel more understood through the very personalised nature of diagnoses and treatment.

Then there’s the 3D printing revolution, where three-dimensional digital models are created by laying down successive layers of various materials thus contributing towards regenerative medicine, replacement surgery, and operation planning. The list of objects that have already been successfully printed demonstrates the potential this technology has to offer.

As technology advances and medtech starts to converge with digital, it’s vital that we collaborate across the wider system and work together to help the NHS, patients and citizens embrace and adopt new technologies.

I’m certainly not a medical futurist. But, given where are today, I think we can safely assume that society is going to change over the next 70 years and those changes will be based on technology.

For me, the important import area to account for and manage will be the tension that will be created between technology advancements and the human factor.

We’ve got to remember that technology isn’t going to have a positive impact on health care delivery and population health unless we bring people with us. Change needs to embed through people and not just through tech and sufficient time and energy needs to be factored into supporting this transition.

My main hope for the near future is that we we’ll lose the label “digital health care” and revert to just health care because digital will be ubiquitous to everything.