How the NHS is Trying to Innovate Technology on Smaller Scale “Testbeds”

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Even by the usual standards of abject government failures in IT projects, the NHS has an especially infamous record of blowing billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money to little or no demonstrable gain. Multiple failures over the last 15 years have left the average British patient without access to a truly 21st century health care system. In an age of austerity and shrinking government spending, the NHS is being forced to cautiously innovate with technology to tackle some of its most pressing problems.

The healthcare challenges posed by an aging population

The number of people above the age of 75 in the UK has risen by 89% in the last 40 years. Hospital admissions and A&E visits are all showing decidedly upward trends while healthcare budgets are flat-lining. Chronic illnesses like diabetes and cardiac diseases are also rearing their ugly heads. The NHS needs to find innovative ways to keep more and more people healthy and out of hospital, and fast.

Testbeds bringing together of various stakeholders

Mike McDonnell, the bloke whose job is to “modernise the health system without going broke” asserts that the NHS is trying to do things a bit differently. They are bringing tech and pharma firms together with patients and healthcare providers from the outset in localized, real world settings or “testbeds”. By bringing patients and doctors in touch with the tech boffins, the NHS hopes to bring a different perspective to existing approaches to innovation in the healthcare industry.

How it works in practice

For instance, in Sheffield, consultants from tech firms like IBM interact with diabetic patients and their nurses to find ways to directly monitor patient insulin levels and reduce house calls by healthcare professionals. In Rochdale, a pharma company and a Google healthcare subsidiary receive data inputs from patients and physicians which could lead to predictive analysis in diagnosis of serious health conditions. In simple terms, the whole process involves a lot of workshops and interactions between patients, doctors, nurses and tech and pharma consultants.

Why NHS may be on to something good here

The inclusion of patients and physicians allows the innovators to know from the outset exactly what is required of them. The NHS needs to improve accessibility to their services and they need to improve the efficiency of their healthcare providers. Testbeds give the primary stakeholders a much needed voice, while providing the innovators sizeable populations in real world settings to test their innovations on. By leveraging power away from the tech firms and including cost cutting as a key metric of the success of a testbed idea, the NHS is showing that maybe it has indeed learnt something from its past follies.