by Karen Livingstone, National Director, AHSN Network Innovation Exchange
Since the NHS was created more than 70 years ago, medicine and medical technologies, as well as the health and care needs of our society, have changed radically. Yet the way care is delivered to many patients has remained locked into the service model created in 1948. The Long Term Plan for the NHS, published earlier this year, sets out an ambition that digitally enabled care will become mainstream.
Virtually every aspect of modern life has been radically reshaped by steps forward in technology. The innovation and technology needed to evolve the health and care system into a service fit for future generations is already out there, waiting to be adopted.
We already have access to digital technology that frees up clinicians so that they have more time for patients:
• Ufonia and iPlato use AI-driven voice technology to triage or call patients and have a fully autonomous, natural conversation, to assess their health status against specified criteria or offer guidance on accessing services
• Health Unlocked’s eSocial prescribing tool lets GPs easily deliver a digital social prescription to patients
• Rightangled’s Heart DNA test is a genetic test kit for cardiovascular risks, drug responses and a risk evaluation
We can also use artificial intelligence (AI) to support diagnostics to increase the opportunity for early intervention. For example, Skin Analytics specialises in screening for melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancers.
There are also systems to help tackle organisational challenges:
• Medic Bleep reduces delays in sharing patient information between clinicians, staff and outpatient departments
• Beringar provides smart monitoring for NHS Estates
We know technology can now deliver tailor-made care for patients, putting them in control of their treatment and health records: My mHealth, Medopad, uMotif and Aseptika are just a few examples of many companies providing digital self-management platforms for those with long-term conditions.
But reports have identified that transforming the health and social care system will not be achieved without a better co-ordinated effort to bring health sector innovators together with NHS and social care teams so that health needs are prioritised. The NHS is complex and ambitious about the future, but pressures are seeing staff stretched to the limit. Successfully introducing new ways of working or new products can be a lengthy process, despite the potential benefits to patients’ lives, support for staff and/or savings that great new ideas can bring.
According to Health Secretary Matt Hancock, a “tide of technology” should be embraced, and this is exactly what the AHSN Network is doing with its Innovation Exchange programme.
There are 15 regional Academic Health Science Networks (AHSNs) in the UK, whose primary objective is to enhance the uptake of healthcare innovation for patient benefit. They support frontline staff, helping them understand possible new solutions to their challenges and connect the NHS to tech innovators.
An important part of this work is a commission from the Office of Life Sciences to provide the Innovation Exchange, an AHSN-coordinated approach which identifies, selects and supports innovations with the potential to transform the lives of patients and support UK business growth.
So what has been achieved by the AHSN Network Innovation Exchange so far?
A 2019 survey of companies that AHSNs and the NHS Innovation Accelerator have worked with over the past year concluded that 691 jobs had been created and £152 million of investment leveraged in order to support development of the companies that were engaged with.
In total, 2,605 companies and 3,630 innovations were supported, with 164 firms entering into long-term strategic partnerships with the AHSNs.
Healthy.io, the first company to turn smartphones into a clinical-grade diagnostic devices, offering the only FDA-cleared and CE-approved home urine test equivalent to lab-based devices, is one such company.
One of its first UK products is a home-based urine-screening service that can detect signs of chronic kidney disease (CKD). The test kit and associated app allow at-risk people, such as those with diabetes, to test themselves for signs of CKD at home.
The Healthy.io team worked closely with the Yorkshire & Humber AHSN, which commissioned the York Health Economic Consortium to evaluate the cost-effectiveness of the service for people with diabetes and hypertension who struggled to attend their annual tests.
The report stated that, by rolling out this innovation for non-compliant at-risk populations (people with diabetes or hypertension) across England, an estimated 11,376 cases of end-stage renal disease (ESRD), and 1,361 deaths would be prevented over five years thanks to 33,723 additional cases of CKD being diagnosed, potentially saving the NHS £660 million.
With 42 million urine tests undertaken by the NHS, urinalysis is the second most common diagnostic test. It is possible to use this technology across a huge range of clinical pathways – for example, the team is working with the East Midlands AHSN on moving urinary tract infection (UTI) testing out of GP clinics and into the community pharmacy setting to reduce pressure on general practices. It is also working with maternity services to offer generic urine testing for pregnant women who need frequent testing but are low-risk and therefore don’t need to keep attending clinics to complete the tests.
Olivia Hind, Partnerships Director at Healthy.io, said: “The economic evaluation supported by Yorkshire & Humber AHSN has helped us to build a healthcare economic case and go to other areas demonstrating the financial savings and usability. It has also helped us build up our business case as we expand into the US.
“The AHSNs helped us to understand which care pathways to focus on, which geographical areas, and which customers – whether they’re clinical commissioning groups or trusts – and that’s enabled us to fine tune our offering and products and secure additional NHS contracts.”
This is one of many examples of innovative businesses engaging to support the change we need to deliver a future-proof NHS.
The AHSN Network works closely with many partners throughout the country to maximise the opportunities for innovators and tailor effective support for healthcare practitioners. For example, the Accelerated Access Collaborative brings to support the national adoption and spread of selected innovations, while Local Enterprise Partnerships and Innovate UK support companies throughout the economy. Patient and business organisations are also key partners with National Voices, NHSX, ABHI, ABPI, as well as the NHS Innovation Accelerator and DigitalHealth.London bringing specialist support in particular areas.
A new digital gateway for innovators is now available to help people access the experts and resources available in all 15 AHSNs, and connect to partners across the health innovation landscape.
It is a highly complex world, with many sceptics to convince, traditions to question and barriers to overcome. The only way to bring about the transformation needed is to work together, supporting those with system-changing, life-changing solutions to help them bridge the gaps and positively impact the lives of patients for years to come.
Find out more about how you can gain the support needed to move things forward in the health and care sector, and watch your business grow, at ahsninnovationexchange.co.uk