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Towards a vision of connected healthcare

Reviewing the Digital Health and Care Scotland Conference, Edinburgh November 2016.

What’s the hot topic?

The world over, there is probably not a private, public or governmental sector that isn’t currently trying to unlock the power of data to deliver value and efficiency savings for their area of work.

And few of those can be feeling the need and seeing the opportunities more clearly than in healthcare.

No surprise then that ‘Data’ was the theme of the Digital Health and Care Scotland Conference; how best to organise, access and use it to deliver the best value for patients, and healthcare providers.

Unlocked, it will add value by providing health services that anticipate future needs, are better tailored and more effective. Services like the MyCOPD app which helps patients manage chronic illnesses at home, reducing significant pressure on the NHS.

MyCOPD app
MyCOPD app

BUT, the key question is, how could and should this data be unlocked and what is its potential? At the conference, there was no clear vision for where this exciting field is heading — but many interesting ideas were discussed.

In the conference strategy discussion, there was clear differentiation between those who did the imagining and those who then unlocked the data and build the systems. An important theme was that bringing creatives and data analysts together has so far only resulted in incremental change.

We may get further when space is allowed for imagineers to share their vision and concepts with the public directly. That collaboration could then refine the vision and make it real.

This might be a way to help the public to see beyond the limited scope of their current expectations.

Anyone who has worked within healthcare is probably familiar with the terrific effort that goes on to create useful patient data. Every day thousands of practitioners record and classify every health care event (a diagnosis, test, surgery or prescription), for every patient against clinical coding dictionaries that are of brain numbing size, literally millions of codes (look up SNOMED if you dare)

Meanwhile pictures of our daily lives and wellbeing are locked away in the data banks of our Fitbits, utility companies and what we search for on the internet.

If these two datasets could be integrated, we might unlock myriad improvements in clinical and social care outcomes by revealing patterns that would lead to better-approved care pathways.

The big story is how data will help deliver improved care in both sectors. And it will happen when they are better connected, both virtually and in terms of infrastructure.

Services like ‘Click Go’ from Cargom, ‘Purple Alert’ from Alzheimer Scotland and Pamis, ‘Digital Passport’ are evidence that things are changing on a small scale.

On a larger scale the NHS is making progress too. It is working in collaboration with Attend Anywhere (video conference appointments) and FACE (assessment and patient journey tracking tools). There is movement towards a future that makes the most of digital capabilities.

So are we hoping for?

We’d rather the conversation move towards a focus on what we want the data to do, and then map that to appropriate digital services.

Imagine if Nike produced a health ecosystem that collected patient data, as a result of a patient’s daily activities and just like a sport fanatic, helped that person to train themselves to be healthier. Imagine that for a whole community living with mental health issues or diabetes.

We think that leveraging outcomes data to inform the development of self-help tools for people with long-term chronic conditions (including mental health) is ripe for some socially impactful design projects.

What’s certain is that the big advances will come when we engage our collective imagination to share visions for future healthcare. These powerful visions will inspire us enough to cast off the burden of legacy tech, infrastructure and what’s been done before, and bring citizens — clinicians, patients, service providers, data miners, service designers, commissioners, system architects — to come together to make these innovations a reality.

Lets get up to speed