Innovation, News

NHSX releases report on themes and feedback from digital health innovators

NHSX has published a report that responds to feedback from digital health innovators across the sector, with a focus on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and other barriers that creators, providers and suppliers have faced.

The ‘Listening to digital health innovators report 2021’, released on 20 August 2021, was compiled in spring and tackles five themes that have been highlighted by innovators, to show how the organisation is taking on board their views and addressing those areas.

The five themes include: accelerated digital adoption; approach and delivery for digital solutions; expanding services to meet changing demand; responding to service provision outside the pandemic; and the digital capabilities of the NHS.

In a foreword, Tara Donnelly, Chief Digital Officer at NHSX, said of the report: “I was heartened to read that digital health innovators consider that there has been greater recognition of them as partners as a result.”

She also added: “A great deal has changed over the last year but despite difficult times, digital health solutions have made an enormous contribution and our commitment to enabling better care through technology remains stronger than ever.”

Explaining the reason for the new report, NHSX states that it “has a clear ambition and strategy to digitise, connect and transform health and social care” and that an “important part of this to encourage digital innovation to flourish; to solve problems and improve services.”

Adding how during the pandemic “both citizens and providers of health and social care have adopted digital technology” and that demand has subsequently accelerated, NHSX says that the NHS “now needs to embed these changes in order to succeed” with digital innovators being “key to this.”

“The listening to digital health innovators report aims to outline and respond to the top five themes that digital innovators need to help accelerate and scale change, as well as highlighting the work that NHSX are undertaking in this area to further support this agenda,” it adds.

The first ‘listening to innovators’ report was published in 2019, and this second instalment has also been accompanied by virtual workshops and online polls to find out about both the barriers and the priorities facing health tech companies.

The literature is expected to shape some of NHSX’s own priorities and focus over the next 12 months.

The most raised topic was the first theme, accelerating digital adoption, and feedback included noticing a “marked increase in speed of decision making and deployment”, as well as a “significant reduction in typical barriers, an increased interest from NHS staff and people towards digital transformation of care,” and a “recognition by the NHS that innovators were key delivery partners in response to the pandemic.”

However, it also notes that there are still barriers that “hinder adoption” of solutions, “particularly in procurement and information governance.”

In response, NHSX says it has taken measures including working to provide clearer information governance (IG), as well as the introduction of an IG portal in 2020. Plus, introducing smarter and more streamlined procurement frameworks with a full review of procurement planned for 2021, as well as work on a framework strategy to support vendors and buyers.

As for approach and delivery, the second theme is described as another trend that emerged from the feedback. “Pressures to deliver both at pace and remotely were expressed”, as well as the positive benefits of this on time and costs, and “questions raised around how the relationship with stakeholders could be strengthened when delivering remotely.”

One anonymous innovator noted that: “COVID-19 has increased my skills for digital delivery. I plan my meetings and presentations in advance and email any materials in advance. I can reach larger audiences.”

While, NHSX said the ways they addressed this topic involved sponsoring remote care through “the adoption of new digital pathways, virtual wards, and virtual primary care appointments”, while it had also changed its way of working by running online innovation events and setting up the Innovation Intel Unit to engage with companies and organisations.

As for addressing changing needs and the expansion of services, innovators told NHSX about the need to “diversify services and increase functionalities offered by their digital solutions” and that challenges involved “prioritisation of feature development” and delivery at speed “whilst meeting regulations and standards”. Around 75 per cent of innovators asked also said they have developed or added additional services due to COVID-19.

NHSX intends to respond to this by simplifying “disparate standards and processes for innovators to access what they need in order to comply with various technical and clinical requirements”, and initiatives have included the launch of the ‘Digital Technology Assessment Criteria for Health and Social Care’ and the ‘guide to good practice for digital and data-driven health and care technologies’, across the past two years.

When it came to responding to service provision outside the pandemic, NHSX raises the concern that “many innovators have found it difficult to progress digital solutions for non-COVID-19 related service.” While acceleration of technologies in the NHS during the pandemic has been widely lauded, one innovator said it had actually “slowed down IT integrations. Slowed down cancer screening and uptake of our solutions.”

In an attempt to reduce this, NHSX explains it has been working to transform a number of care pathways digitally and remotely, as well as building architecture for shared care records, improving electronic records systems, and introducing an AI laboratory strategy. Another solution it cites is the release of a collection of eight ‘digital playbooks’ across a range of specialities, to support staff with digitising care pathways. HTN has previously taken a closer look at the case studies and solutions showcased in some of these, in areas such mental health and eye care.

Finally, across the fifth theme – digital capability – NHSX says that “innovators emphasised the need to further improve the digital readiness and maturity of trusts and other NHS providers,” as well as for “upskilling the NHS workforce in digital technology, and ensuring there is a strong steer from leadership to procure digital solutions.” However, it also shares that 78 per cent of innovators asked think the NHS is becoming more digitally capable and confident overall.

NHSX’s own steps to work on this include “programmes supporting the digital skills of NHS boards, skills training for clinical teams,” and “training for all staff under the digital ready workforce programme as well as the flagship Digital Academy.”

To read the full report, which was written by Paul Hudson, Louis Edozie and Neesa Mangalaparathy, or find out more about one of the individual themes, click here.