Guest Post – The imperative for innovation in health

wazoku Blog

Unleashing the creativity of individuals for transformative ideas that will create better health

By Tina Woods, Head of Lansons Health

Developments in technology and rising consumer expectations are creating a whirlwind of challenges and opportunities in the health landscape.  From the application of bioinformatics and genomics to transform drug discovery, through to mobile technology connecting everyone in the health ecosystem to revolutionise outcomes, change is everywhere.  Global telecoms, tech giants, digital accelerators and biotech start-ups are all taking their place alongside the more established players like pharma to do their bit to make individuals’ health journeys better, happier and less costly.

From a human perspective, any innovation that helps people lead healthier and happier lives is a no-brainer. But innovation that leads to less cost is critical too.  Healthcare systems around the world are crying out for innovation that will help them meet the rising (and more complex) demand for services and better cope with the increased constraints on the funding and resources available to them.

Pharma and biotech are rising to the challenge by looking for ways to be smarter in developing novel drugs more quickly and inexpensively, using the latest thinking in synthetic biology and bioengineering. The UK is a leading hub for scientific innovation; in London alone, the number of innovation clusters, accelerators and incubators is exploding. The Oxford-Cambridge-London biomedical cluster is a growing powerhouse, for example, and the Francis Crick institute has just signed its first open science collaboration with pharma giant GSK in its role as a beacon of scientific discovery.

Pharma - woman holding pill

Close-up of woman’s hand holding pill between thumb and forefinger

Clearly, new technology is a key part of the innovation mix. But new thinking is too. Change comes from people, and too often organisational cultures and structures create barriers that dampen the creative vigour in people that is critical in unleashing innovation and growth. This is a key issue that leaders of any organisation wishing to grow need to address, along with creating a culture based on collaboration, trust and entrepreneurialism – where giving things a go, even if they fail, is embraced.

Let’s talk specifics. Here in England, the NHS estimates that it will face a funding gap of £30 billion by the end of the 2015–2020 parliament. Productivity gains are planned to close the gap by £20 billion, but £10 billion still needs to be found according to the recent Institute for Public Policy Research report, Improved circulation: Unleashing innovation across the NHS. The NHS strategic plan is clear on how to do this:

1. The NHS needs to shift its focus from treating people in hospital to supporting them better to stay well at home.

2. Delivering integrated care around the needs of the individual patient rather than piecemeal in a disjointed system.

3. Empowering citizens to have a bigger role in deciding on the care they want.

4. Designing and embracing the new technologies that will deliver innovation.

These ideas sound remarkably similar to those in most other developed nations; the challenge arises because change relies not on systems and technologies per se, but in people changing their behaviour.

So, then, we need technological innovation underpinned by behavioural change.  The NHS has just announced its Innovation Accelerator scheme to catapult 17 selected innovations into the public sphere. Martha Lane Fox, entrepreneurial change agent and disruptive innovator, has also been brought into the fold to help UK citizens embrace technology in the run-up to electronic health records becoming universal.

It will be interesting to see how quickly the public adopts these many innovations.  But as consumers realise the boundless potential of the value of their own health information to improve their lives, there is no limit to the innovations that will emerge from their growing awareness and power. We are already seeing start-ups vying for space in the creation of health banks and personal data marketplaces (and yes, the health industry would be foolish not to take lessons from the banking sector here). And we will also see greater consumer empowerment, with citizens increasingly taking things into their own hands – the success of the recent pharma-supported #actuallyshecan campaign speaks to this.

As technology has developed, consumers are expecting greater transparency and openness in all their transactions with both public and commercial institutions. Organisations cannot hide from the risk this exposes them to and need to realise that organisational integrity and social responsibility will be increasingly important factors in consumer choice and preference. Yet, while you only have to look at the mission statements of most pharma companies to see that they are all embracing the mantra that “patients come first” shouldn’t it be “humans come first”? After all, we are all human and as consumers, we all have a choice. A choice of who we want to be and socialise with, who we want to work for, what we want to do and what we want to consume.

And what will we – as consumers – choose?  We will choose products and services that cater to our needs and how we behave in the real world. Sound obvious? Yes, but you just have to look at the health app frenzy to see that of the 100,000+ apps that exist, very few are designed well enough for users to want to use them (in one report, five apps accounted for 15% of all downloads) and even fewer have any effect on changing long-term behaviour. And with all the hype over wearable technology, even the most die-hard early adopters will admit that they stop using their gadgets after the novelty wears off. What this tells us is that solutions need to come from understanding the human problem and not from technology per se.

Clearly then, it is essential to understand the challenges of changing human behaviour in order to successfully drive innovation in health. Leading designers like Tim Brown from IDEO gets this and espouses change by design, taking a human-centered approach to problem-solving that helps people and organisations become more innovative and creative. Indeed, design thinking now pervades a lot of new thinking in health, with creative collaborations sprouting up everywhere to transform healthcare. The HELIX Centre for Design in Healthcare, for example, is a joint collaboration between the Royal College of Art (RCA) and the Institute of Global Health Innovation (IGHI) at Imperial College London, and is aiming to be a global business hub for low cost and high impact innovation.

Even in the hyped tech startup world of Silicon Valley, leading entrepreneurs like Eric Ries with his Lean Startup methodology embrace this human-centered notion – understand your customer, develop a hypothesis of what they need, experiment and learn in an iterative process to innovate. Start with the problem – the need –   first and the technology follows. So, innovation is a bit like an experiment in the end and this is where science meets human full circle in health. We need to unleash the creativity of individuals for transformative ideas that will create better health and cure disease in areas of greatest unmet need. And just like in a science lab, we need to ask a lot of questions and get the insight to fully understand the problem before attempting to hypothesise a solution. Then it is a case of testing, failing and learning until something truly innovative emerges.

Tina Woods is head of Lansons Health and is passionate about innovation in healthcare and science and tapping into the talents and creativity in people to drive change. If you would like to discuss this article or find out more about Lansons Health, please contact Tina.

E: tinaw@lansons.com

T: 020 7294 3688

W: www.lansons.com