Featured, Health Tech Trends, Innovation

Health Tech Priorities 2021: from VR to robots and ‘purging paper’

We’re one week into the New Year, so now seems like the perfect time to catch up and find out what everyone’s health tech priorities are for 2021.

We’ve already taken an in-depth look back at 2020. And had the professionals make their health tech predictions for 2021, too.

But our most recent call for comments was to find out what everyone will be focusing on over the next few months. Thankfully, an array of healthcare staff and tech leaders filled us in on their plans, big projects and what they hope to achieve in the coming year.

What will be trending for health tech experts in 2021? Find out, below.

Helen Pardoe, Chief Clinical Information Officer, the Princess Alexandra Hospitals NHS trust, Consultant Colorectal Surgeon

 Twitter: @MissHelenPardoe

In 2020, we achieved more in our digital journey than we could ever have imagined this time last year. Virtual consultations using both telephone and video consultations are routine, and we have used our video consultation application, Attend Anywhere to deliver over 1,000 virtual visits to our inpatients to connect with their loved ones.

Some of these virtual visits have been funny, others heart-breaking, as we are there as a family says their last goodbyes. However, the technology was there in the most difficult of times and for this we are thankful.

So, what will 2021 hold for us? In the next few weeks, we will all be moving over to full coverage with 8 x 8 telephony, which will be a fantastic improvement for everybody to be able to work in an agile system.  By the end of the year all my consultant colleagues will have the advantage of using voice recognition for dictation – no more spending hours typing emails.

The major focus for the year is to use improvements in technology to improve our patient safety and outcomes.  Streamlining the number of digital systems clinicians have to use will release time for them to care for their patients. Receiving data in real-time will help us to understand the drivers behind mortality outlier alert issues and will help us address the issues. I am particularly looking forward to using the sepsis and AKI (acute kidney injury) modules on our inpatient platform NerveCentre, as the first major clinical decision support tool we will be using in the hospital.

So hopefully in 2021 we will be dictating everything quicker; our Teams meetings will be even more fun with more backgrounds to entertain our calls; we will be better at sharing our screens and our virtual whiteboards will convey even more relevant patient information to all locations in the hospital. Most importantly, our patients will spend less time in hospital and staff wellbeing will be supported by further improvements in health care technology. Oh yes, and we will use less paper as my Qlik Sense dashboard names and shames. 2021- Bring it on!


Nick Black, Chief Digital Information Officer, Gateshead Health NHS Foundation Trust

 Twitter: @NickBlackQE_CIO

Through 2021, Gateshead Health NHS Foundation Trust will continue to expand the clinical use of the systems that we implemented through the GDE Fast Follower Programme. This focus on continuous improvement will enable the services to deliver improved quality of care, improved patient safety, ultimately leading to improved patient outcomes.  The digital team will also continue supporting staff to have access to everything electronically so they can do their job wherever they need to – at their home, in a patients’ home, at a patients’ bedside, or at their desk.

We are also looking to focus on digital transformation, exploiting robotic process automation (RPA) and new technologies, such as video consultations and Health Call to empower patient self-care and to support the redesign of the services – using the principle of ‘Digital First’.

Dr Matt Halkes, Clinical Director of Innovation and Digital Transformation, Torbay and South Devon NHS Foundation Trust

[We’ll be] expanding our use of VR and AR environments in training, particularly for non-technical skills such as teamwork, communication, empathy and compassion. This will be delivered through our well-established VR Lab.

Developing digital workforce competencies through a needs analysis and then training – in order to support staff to understand the role of digital technologies and feel comfortable in deploying them as part of their clinical service.

We have been awarded a modest amount of funding by SW HEE Postgraduate Training to set up a Digital Futures Hub. This will enable trainees to gain hands on experience with a range of technologies – holo-lens, Alexa, Oculus etc – in a facilitated environment, with the aim that this will enable them to better conceptualise how they might incorporate digital approaches into their practice in the future. The Digital Futures hub will be part of our wider innovation accelerator hub that will enable teams to develop their ideas on how care can be better delivered in the future.

We have demonstrated that providing public, patients and carers with high-quality accredited video-based information can support the entire patients journey – from prevention and avoidance of crisis, health navigation, self-care, shared decision making through to preparing for and recovering from therapeutic intervention. To scale this approach the Trust has formed a partnership venture, Health and Care Innovations, that delivers video production and platforms to aid delivery to patients. [It’s the] largest library of health and social care videos in UK.

The CONNECTPlus app is an excellent example of patient co-design [and] responsible innovation, as it is a direct response to the express wish from patients with long-term conditions that, although they do want to engage in digital healthcare, they do not want to be directed to multiple different locations for this support. The CONNECTPlus app provides information about conditions, but also the clinical services, medication and appointment diaries and symptom trackers. The priority for 2021 is a systematic roll-out of the app across long-term condition and planned care pathways, as a core element of the Trusts “digital citizen” strand of our Digital Strategy.

However, for me this is only part of the picture and the need is to capitalise on all digital routes and points of contact we have with patients, carers and the general population, using the tools that are already in peoples’ hands and that they are familiar with using: websites, apps, video, social media, podcasts, video streaming and even potentially TV. We have piloted some of these and now need to make this an integral part of our care model and future infrastructure plans.

Other areas we wish to expand are the use of VR/AR technology to support remote consultation, bringing in expert opinion to support healthcare workers in the community. We are also progressing a research collaboration with University of Plymouth on the role of VR in ICU rehabilitation, anxiety and pain management, including during painful procedures.

Dr Andy Webster, Chief Clinical Information Officer, Leeds Teaching Hospital

Twitter: @Andywebster

After the year we have had, predictions for next year are never going to be an exact science. We aim to continue our strategy to build the #LeedsDigitalWay, to tie in with our new hospital development but improve the experience for all staff, wherever they work on our estate.

Our priorities include:

  • Further developing our electronic health record, PPM+ to continue our journey into the cloud and to improve the user experience for our staff – both [when] entering data and surfacing information.
  • Better use of data to better inform our clinicians and operational teams, to enable improvements in both the quality and timeliness of care.
  • Continued retention of our highly skilled and motivated digital workforce, who have contributed so much to keep the hospital running during the unprecedented times we have faced this year.
  • Refreshing our PAS (patient administration system) to the latest version, which is a massive project but should realise massive benefits.
  • Replacing our service desk, which is our first point of contact with many colleagues. We will be focusing on service levels and improving the first-time fix rate.

Gavin Newman, Digital Programme Manager, The Royal Orthopaedic Hospital NHS Foundation Trust (ROH)

It’s a new year and the ROH digital team is ready to continue with its work to transform digital systems across the Trust. Our main priorities for this year are:

  • Patient recordsOur Trust is now part of the Birmingham and Solihull Health Information Exchange. Early 2021 will see the Trust have the ability to access patient records across the area which will support patient care further. Coupled with our current implementation of an onsite Clinical Portal, this will enable clinicians to have a much more comprehensive view of patient records and will improve safety and continuity of care across different NHS providers.
  • Purge the paper – We continue to strive to become as paper “light” as possible at the Trust. In 2021 we will work to build on the successful digital patient letters project recently launched…with a view to moving towards an electronic patient portal. Other work todigitise and automate paper-based systems and processes will include Pre-Operative Assessment, Electronic Outcomes and utilising Robotic Process Automation where possible.
  • EPMA (Electronic and Prescribing medicines Administration) – We will work on further enhancements to our EPMA solution to incorporate our Outpatients Department and introduce Order Comms.
  • Microsoft 365 – We will continue our work to achieve a complete rollout of Microsoft 365 across the site, to all staff
  • Video Consultations – Further onboarding of specialties to our current video consultation solution to increase our virtual consultation uptake.

Kam Sidhu, Deputy CIO, Tees Esk & Wear Valleys Trust

Transformation has been seen in action in 2020. In 2021, we will continue at pace to support users with a key focus on ‘Virtual Office’ and strengthening and upgrading our Infrastructure and roll-out of key EPR (electronic patient record) projects. We will also be taking opportunities to support Digital Inclusion through innovation and working in partnership with external organisations.

Leanne Poole, Project Manager, Improvement and Integration Team, United Lincolnshire Hospitals Trust

Twitter: @lePoole43

United Lincolnshire Hospitals Trust (ULHT) have got some really exciting technology improvements planned in 2021 within Outpatient Services, following the success of digital improvements in 2020.

One of these is Robotic Process Automation. As we all know, the NHS uses a number of different IT systems to record information. We’re looking to remove some of the more mundane keying tasks in Outpatients, freeing up more time to spend with patients. Outpatients have a team of virtual workers that can key data much faster than any human and they’ll be used to transfer information from one system to another, creating efficiencies and improving productivity.

There are two further automations planned in 2021: Transfer of ASI’s (Appointment Slot Issues) from the eReferral system into Medway, and self-service booking, which will provide patients with the solution to book their own follow-up appointments.


What are your health tech priorities 2021? Have you got any exciting projects to talk about? Email press@htn.co.uk.