Digital Health on the Road to Damascus!

John Eaglesham


And so to the excellent Digital Health Rewired 2022 event in London this week, a real, live, old-school convention, complete with long-overdue reunions, serendipitous new meetings, expansive arm-waving and enthusiasm, and too much coffee.

The best sessions were really outstanding. The panel with Tim Ferris, Matthew Taylor and Frank Hester were particularly engaging. Some of the serious takeaways for those of us trying to discern the shape of the NHS market for digital health platforms over the next few years included:

  • A focus on levelling up, with heavy investment from the centre to bring all acute trusts up to at least a basic level of Trust-wide digital adoption by professionals and the public
  • Universal acceptance that technology can dramatically change the elective care capacity challenge … 20% or 30% appointments could safely be delivered to patients at home
  • Focus on technology to enable change from responding to demand, to responding to need
  • Agreement that an ICS footprint is the right level for a single common platform

Others, perhaps more questionable, but still interesting and thought-provoking ideas were also offered by this and other panels, for example:

  • Implementation of basic infrastructure by large internal NHS development teams will comfortably co-exist with private investment in digital innovation for at least the next 4-5 years, simply because there is so much to do. But the NHS has a responsibility to make its own internal roadmap (much) clearer to industry, much further ahead.
  • The pandemic showed how real-time data around critical service delivery enables real-time problem-solving… how can we take this forward post-pandemic?
  • There is a big risk – seen many times in the past – that policy will chop and change yet again “We always overestimate what we can do in two years, and underestimate what we can do in five”
  • Identifying one right way to do something then making everyone else do it sounds absolutely right.. and is completely wrong

There were many discussions about the NHS’ (and suppliers’) chronic failure to really follow through from the original “business case” for deployment of digital, and show evidence of benefits, and how this led to wider cynicism by FD’s about any business case, particularly those showing short-term economic benefits. This cynicism was encapsulated in a pointed (and well-informed) crack by Matthew Taylor, talking about how when evidence-based policy-making hits reality, it mutates into “policy-based evidence-making!”. A sounder approach was to have more faith in the longer-term intrinsic value and overall benefits from digital transformation, and navigate towards those instead.

The comedy moment of the show came from Beverly Bryant’s stunned reaction to “Road to Damascus” revelation by the leader of a well-known EPR system supplier that healthcare data should never be locked up in proprietary systems, but should be freely available for the greater good of all patients. Amen to that!

As ever there were one or two presentations that didn’t quite live up to the session title, but unlike most such conventions over the last couple of years, delegates could not simply switch their camera off and go and walk the dog, but instead had to sit there in the dark and hear the speakers out. This only added to the general sense of camaraderie and exuberance once back out in the main halls.

So good to see everyone there in person at this pivotal moment for the sector. See you again soon.