The road to healthcare innovation

The road to healthcare innovation

With an increased proportion of the population living longer, the demand for medical care has increased exponentially. The NHS has been struggling to cope with demand since before the COVID-19 pandemic, facing shortages of patient beds, reduced staff working under immense pressure, and managing waiting lists which are at an all-time high.

Having now faced up to the challenges posed by coronavirus, many clinicians have remarked that innovation in healthcare has developed more since the start of the pandemic than it had in a decade previously. From the increased use of telemedicine to the introduction of medical devices into new care pathways, clinicians have adopted new approaches and technologies that address many important issues – benefitting patients and the wider NHS.

Now, as the crisis begins to subside, a critical question is whether innovation will continue to be adopted at the same pace in the future.

Taking the network approach

Recognising this, the NHS has taken steps to make it simpler for innovation to be adopted into healthcare.  A central element is the creation of 15 Academic Health Science Networks (AHSNs).

Outlining the integral role of the AHSN Network in driving innovation in the NHS, Lorna Green, Director of Enterprise and Growth at Innovation Agency – part of the AHSN Network, said: “The AHSNs are regional organisations that combine to offer industry and the third sector a route into the NHS and social care.  The NHS is a complicated organisation, where regional needs and national specialist services combine.  Despite the NHS being responsible for the wellbeing of more than 60 million people, there are no centralised budgets, and it is not a top-down organisation.  For this reason, the AHSN Network was established in 2013 to help business and academia more quickly access the right people to showcase innovation to.”

Adopting innovation is never easy, and rightly so, but the AHSN Network aims to create the right conditions to foster positive change across health and social care. The organisation helps businesses and MedTech companies showcase innovation to the right people, as well as assisting them in securing funding – which is important for securing regulatory approval and clinical trial data. It also connects different parts of the NHS network, which speeds up the process of the adoption of innovation in a complex healthcare system.

Collaboration in innovation

As an example, the AHSN Network has played an important role in helping more patients and clinicians reap the benefits offered by the geko™ device.

Commenting on her work with Sky Medical Technology, Lorna said: “The interesting thing about the geko™ device is that it is one device that can apply to multiple significant medical issues. Electrical stimulation of the leg to generate additional blood flow can not only help with reducing the risk of blood clots developing in a hospital environment but also help reduce swelling in pre and post-operative patients.

“Outside of the hospital environment, it could also help heal difficult conditions such as wounds or leg ulcers, again potentially reducing the cost of treatment while at the same time delivering better outcomes for patients. This kind of innovation can be transformative to health systems since it reduces cost as well as improving patient wellbeing and is exactly the kind of innovation the AHSN Network can help to champion widely once the benefits are evidenced.”

Carrying the torch

The pandemic has been pivotal to an infrastructure change that has assisted healthcare professionals to make the switch to innovation-enabled care. By working in partnership with clinicians and organisations like the AHSN Network this momentum can be maintained and innovation can continue to be adopted across healthcare.

Read more about Lorna’s thoughts on how to implement healthcare innovation here.

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