Comment: Data Saves Lives - how the Government's new digital strategy will impact the healthcare sector

19-May-2022

Joost Bruggeman (pictured below), chief executive and co-founder of medical messenger app, Siilo, discusses the Government’s forthcoming Data Saves Lives strategy, and the digital development of healthcare in the UK

The UK Government's <i>Data Saves Lives</i> strategy focuses on supporting innovators to develop and deliver new digital solutions to benefit healthcare services

The UK Government's Data Saves Lives strategy focuses on supporting innovators to develop and deliver new digital solutions to benefit healthcare services

The role of the digital, data, and technology profession in the future of UK health systems is set to gain new recognition and direction when the Government unveils its Data Saves Lives strategy in the coming months.

If it lives up to its promise, this will help to drive the efficiency and effectiveness of data infrastructure, driving interoperability while establishing clear and open standards for safely sharing data.

The backdrop to the new strategy is the tumult which was caused by the pandemic, and the acceleration of digital trends this created.

The UK Government now wants to build on the momentum which has been established in the push towards digital transformation.

We find ourselves in the middle of a very exciting time in the digital development of healthcare in the UK

Similar exercises can be seen elsewhere in Europe, such as in Germany, which is set to invest €59billion in e-health and digitalisation in the rush to improve services.

While the UK’s strategy is primarily focused on the internal workings of the national healthcare system, the implications are positive for all healthcare technology organisations which have demonstrated a commitment to data safety and security.

And it means they are well placed, both technically and culturally, to support the NHS in its onward journey.

Encouraging innovation

On reading the draft document, what encourages me most is the focus on supporting innovators – those most likely to be responsible for developing and delivering new solutions to benefit both healthcare professionals and patients.

The new strategy is set to provide a clear set of standards for those creating or deploying new data-driven technology.

What encourages me most is the focus on supporting innovators – those most likely to be responsible for developing and delivering new solutions to benefit both healthcare professionals and patients

This commitment to creating an innovation-friendly environment, with a framework for testing, approval, and deployment, can be the catalyst for continuous improvement in the technologies used by healthcare professionals.

It will provide the confidence to support investment, rather than the hit-and-miss, rather-opportunistic nature of the environment currently.

As chief executive and co-founder of Siilo, a healthcare-specific digital communications tool, I understand the fine line that the Government needs to walk.

On the one hand, it needs to build on the huge opportunities that new technologies present by keeping its doors open to innovation – doors which opened because of the challenges brought by the pandemic. But, on the other hand, the Government needs to regulate and manage the relentless growth of new technologies.

COVID-19 played a part in Siilo’s own pathway into the UK healthcare market, due to the urgent need for rapid, reliable communication and information sharing.

The other issue which facilitated our entry was a series of daunting ransomware attacks in the UK, which prompted hospital boards to take preventive measures on all digital aspects of healthcare, pushing data security to the forefront and prompting hospitals to reject unsafe commercial messenger apps that posed a threat to data safety.

COVID-19 played a part in Siilo’s pathway into the UK healthcare market, due to the urgent need for rapid, reliable communication and information sharing tools

COVID-19 played a part in Siilo’s pathway into the UK healthcare market, due to the urgent need for rapid, reliable communication and information sharing tools

Without these driving factors, we are under no illusion that Siilo’s route into the UK healthcare sector would have been far more difficult, especially as a tech company from outside the UK.

The Data Saves Lives strategy is aiming to create an environment which is conducive to technological innovation at a level which is appropriate for the NHS

So now that the panic of the pandemic is subsiding, the Data Saves Lives strategy is aiming to create an environment which is conducive to technological innovation at a level which is appropriate for the NHS.

This is a significant challenge because oversight boards have to make decisions on topics and technologies they may not be familiar with.

Conversely, technology often develops so quickly that in vast structures such as the NHS, conducting a swift quality assurance and compliance strategy, as well as putting new regulations in place, is far more easily said than done.

So, at Siilo we look at the proposed strategy with great anticipation, while at the same time we understand how things work in the real world.

Technology often develops so quickly that in vast structures such as the NHS, conducting a swift quality assurance and compliance strategy, as well as putting new regulations in place, is far more easily said than done

There’s unlikely to be a perfect solution, but that doesn’t mean that innovators should sit and wait until everything becomes more crystalised. It is the responsibility of the technology sector to interact with healthcare providers and the NHS so we can hold up our side of any mutual agreement.

In short, it is also our job to provide clear data on our services so that decision makers have a good understanding of what we bring to the table, how we work, and how we can contribute to the NHS’s future aspirations and security regulations.

And we should welcome any opportunities for dialogue – we find ourselves in the middle of a very-exciting time in the digital development of healthcare in the UK.

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