The UCL Festival of Digital Health – now in its second year – showcases how developments in technology in many diverse areas are improving healthcare. This year, topics ranged from the use of health record data with the Farr Institute, empowering patients with long-term conditions, to digital health and wellbeing from the UCL Centre for Behaviour Change.
As part of the festival, we assembled a diverse panel for discussion of some of the challenges and opportunities with digital health, particularly related to long-term neurological conditions. We also recruited a range of researchers, charities and SMEs to showcase achievements in digital health related to neurology. The event, which took place on the last day of the festival, was aptly named Neurology + digital health.
Our panel, made up of Junaid Bajwa (MSD and Velocity Health), Amanda Begley (UCLPartners), Alexander Leff (UCL), Andrew Morris (UCLPartners), George Pepper (Shift.ms) and Harpreet Sood (NHS England) (full biographies can be found in the event programme), focused on three topics followed by questions from attendees.
1.How can patients access information and technology to change the way their care is given? What changes do we see in care when patients start using online tools and services?
2.Why is data sharing and interoperability so important to achieving better access to care for patients, and why is it such a slow process within the NHS?
3.How can we have effective, equal and legitimate ways of working with industry? And how can we encourage the secondary use of data for research and clinical practice?
Amanda Begley and George Pepper first discussed the impact of digital health and patient empowerment. George, co-founder of Shift.ms, provided some background of the work done by the social network for people with multiple sclerosis (MS) and how its aims for digital to be a tool to enable equal access to care, regardless of location. Amanda used HealthUnlocked, another online social network, as an example of a peer-to-peer community which can access NHS services. An important developing need that was discussed is how health professionals can best recommend the right digital information and tools to meet the needs of individual patients. But with so many digital tools emerging, where should healthcare professionals be directing people? Plenty of food for thought in this session.
Andrew Morris and Harpreet Sood tackled the ever important topic of interoperability and data sharing within the NHS. As always there was a consensus on poor digital maturity in the NHS and Andrew likened healthcare without data to driving at night without headlights. There are a number of initiatives trying to address the gaps as Harpreet highlighted – such as digital roadmaps, digital maturity assessments, innovation test beds – but the process is slow and there needs to be better clarity on the end point of these pieces of work.
An audience member comment on the struggles of doing business within the NHS and the industry view of it being the worst place to do business resonated with the panel and other attendees. Andrew cited procurement as a big issue, while Amanda added that the incentives in the NHS contradict those in innovation, making the system risk averse. There are some cultural, financial leadership and capability-based changes required for the NHS to truly make the most of digital technology.
Finally, Alex Leff and Junaid Bajwa talked about their experiences with the secondary use of data and working with industry. Alex has been working directly with patients for his research in aphasia. Junaid was able to share invaluable experience on coming from a primary care background and the added value that working with industry partners can bring.
After addressing these topics it was time to hear about digital health in action. 10 presenters took the floor to showcase their work in neurology. Each had just five minutes to give the attendees a taste of their work and it was an impressive spread from tracking hand coordination to distinguish between neurodegenerative disorders, to design approaches applied to online MS assessments (more information in the event programme and Storify). Our keynote speaker, Andrew Morris, described the presentations as inspiring – “progress may be slow but it’s happening, and at UCLPartners our mission is to make digital healthcare accessible to all.”
At UCLPartners, a founding partner of DigitalHealth.London, we’re committed to being part of the solution to the problems faced in digital health, by both innovators and the NHS. We intend to organise more of these events so if you’d like to attend or take part, email us.