On the cusp of an innovation revolution

The co-founder of the NHS Innovation Accelerator programme looks at the transitions facing healthcare.

Technology continues to disrupt the world we live in.

Newspapers are digital. Cars are electric. Amazon and iTunes are the department and music stores of today. Visiting travel agents has been replaced by e-tickets and online check-in, and whistling for a taxi by the push of a button with the likes of Uber.

In health care, the revolution is only just beginning. Almost every industrialised country stands on the cusp of three fundamental shifts in modern medicine. The question is, will we in the NHS embrace them?

The first is genomics and personalised medicine. It’s been a decade and a half since we launched of the Human Genome Project and we’re still in the early days of finding out what collecting and decoding complete sets of people’s genes will enable us to learn about specific conditions.

As biology becomes an information science, we expect to see a wholesale reclassification of disease aetiologies. As we’re discovering with cancer, what we once thought of as a single condition may be dozens of distinct conditions.

Common diseases may in fact be extended families of quite rare diseases that require individualised diagnosis and treatment: from one-size-fits many, to one-size-fits-one. And with more precise diagnosis comes more targeted therapy, earlier action, and greater scope for prevention.

The second is data and digital health. Going digital benefits all – from offering citizens the chance to access their records online to enabling doctors to record vital signs and monitor observations remotely using tablets.

In the near future, we will use big data and artificial intelligence to predict who’s at risk of becoming unwell, when and where. From how you book your appointment to the follow up care you receive, digital and data analytics provide the scope to transform the complete NHS experience, and put patients at the centre of their own care.

Third, hardware and wearables. Fitbits, ECG’s and ophthalmoscopes that attach to your phone, Applewatch – each allow us to provide interconnected care, monitoring, predicting and treating in concert. 3D printing, the ability to print plastic or metal bones and limbs, to receive the blueprint for a medical device via the internet and print it on-demand, and when combined with regenerative medicine, the capacity to print cells, tissues and organs will revolutionise treatment, transplantation and manufacturing of devices.

The NHS needs to embrace and harness these revolutions – sink or swim; either we surf the innovation wave or let it wash over us.

The health service has a lot to offer that many other health systems don’t – the unique combination of biomedical research, population-orientated primary and specialist care serving diverse patient groups, longitudinal data, one of the largest genomics initiatives in the world, an aligned financing system, rigorous focus on value creation and the largest part-integrated service globally.

But if we don’t install the necessary infrastructure, we won’t be able to make the most of the opportunities that technology and innovation have to offer.

That’s why we’re launching the NHS Innovation Accelerator Programme, which aims to roll-out a set of tried and tested innovations across the English health service to benefit millions, from mental health apps to a healthcare social network, to a smartphone heart monitor to a telehealth service.

Innovators on the programme will receive national support to spread their technologies to hospitals and GP practices throughout England. They will receive funding, coaching from high calibre mentors such as Lord Ara Darzi and dedicated regional partners.

These innovations will speed up diagnosis and treatment of diseases, enhance clinical safety and improve out-of-hospital care. It’s a programme we are excited about, and learnings from the programme will better equip the health service to capture and spread innovation for patients in future.

The NHS is under pressure. Although more of the same won’t cut it if we are to continue improving patient care, harnessing the innovation revolution just might do the trick.

Dr Mahiben Maruthappu

Dr Mahiben Maruthappu is a practicing doctor and Senior Fellow to the CEO of NHS England. He advises on NHS England’s innovation, technology and prevention portfolio, co-founding the NHS Innovation Accelerator and the NHS Diabetes Prevention Programme.

He has advised a range of organisations, from start-ups to multilaterals, including the Swiss government and the Experiment Fund and the WHO.

Mahiben has a strong interest in research with over 80 peer-reviewed publications and 50 academic awards. His work has been featured by BBC News and the international press.

He is Chairman of the UK Medical Students’ Association (UKMSA), and has written three medical books. Mahiben was educated at Oxford, Cambridge and Harvard universities and was the first person from British healthcare to be included in Forbes’ 30 under 30.

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  1. clive bonny says:

    Hi Mahiben
    Good to hear your observations on new technology. I work with a manufacturer of wearable health devices which regenerate cellular tissue and repair wounds using microcurrent technology. Despite being successfully field tested on animals and humans for several years they are unable to attract any support from NHS Innovation to assist in clinical trials and MHRA approval. This costs too much for a small company which has invested 12 years R and D already. What should they do?