The past, present and future of innovation to support and empower the patient

By Hazel Jones and Jackie Tatterton. 13 July 2018

Head and shoulders of Jackie Tatterton and Hazel Jones of the NHS Digital Apps and Wearables programme

Hazel Jones and Jackie Tatterton work in the Apps and Wearables programme and here, they talk about how innovation has touched their field in the past, the present and potentially in the future.

What do you think has been the top innovation in your field over the last seventy years?

HJ: In the last seventy years, I’d probably say that the greatest innovation in this space has been in telematics and telehealth, as they’ve brought the relationship between the health or social care professional and the patient together.  It has allowed them to communicate without the obstacles of having to book and wait for an appointment or find transport to get to an appointment.

JT: Looking at the NHS as a whole, I would say that the greatest innovation has been keyhole surgery.  It helped my father to get through his heart surgery and my husband to overcome the removal of his kidney.  Without keyhole surgery, the surgery would have been far more dangerous, invasive and their recovery time would have been far longer.  For my husband, being able to come home to the kids sooner was obviously the best outcome.

What are you most excited about in terms of digital innovation in your field right now?

HJ: The most exciting thing that is happening for us at the moment are the opportunities that have opened up for developers thanks to the digital boom, so they can build apps that help people with their health and wellbeing.  However, what that boom didn’t do was introduce any kind of safety mechanisms or measures to ensure that those apps have been tested clinically and are safe to use.

So, we’re setting up a framework to enable holistic testing of apps and digital technologies, meaning that we can help signpost citizens to the digital tools that we know will help them. These apps have detailed evidence based outcomes and meet the standards around clinical and patient safety, as well as the technical wrap-around such as the security of the data collected and how it will be used.

We’ve got 70 apps out there already, from sleeping aids to self-managing diabetes. We’re in the process of scaling that up so that in the future we can offer even more choice to patients and citizens.

JT: However, it’s not just about ‘empowering the person’ by offering them the apps, we’re empowering them by involving them in the process itself.   We do a lot of user research, from the early design stages through to the final product launch.  So, when an app is out there for people to use, the benefits are hopefully even better for them as they haven’t been designed with what we think they want in mind but rooted in what users want from the very beginning.

How do you see innovation developing in your field come NHS100?

HJ: I think, for us, virtual reality and artificial intelligence are the ones that we’re watching. I think the idea of a virtual personal health assistant that enables someone to have greater control and access to tools that can help them navigate through their own health and wellbeing concerns.  We’ve already seen uptake of technology such as wearables which shows that attitudes are shifting towards wanting to take that control.  So, I think the key for us is unlocking that to enable them to have access to those technologies.

I think it will be a whole different world where people have access to more information that helps to inform their actions and supports them to improve their own health and wellbeing.

 

JT: I think for me it’s about having that information in the first place, because there’s so much information out there but there’s no way to easily store or access it.

My daughter has an autoimmune disease and we couldn’t find anybody in the whole country that had the same symptoms as her.  This meant she was the guinea pig for every treatment that she had to undergo, such as chemotherapy and biological agents.

This raises two points. Firstly, if we’d had access to all the information up front, it could have made locating someone else with similar symptoms far easier, which could have impacted on the treatment decisions.

Secondly, if it is really was the first case of this disease, then we could document what happens and the successes we had, therefore making it easier for the next person that goes through a similar thing.

The information that we hold within the NHS is massive, so if we can get that to the right people at the right time, especially through things like apps, I think that’s an amazing world we could be in.

HJ: I think leveraging that collective intelligence is key.  It’s understanding where the trends are so we can try to take more preventative action where we see patterns and trying to use those patterns so we can prevent and pre-empt conditions rather than just treat them.