Innovation through collaboration: hacking healthcare solutions

‘Europe has a problem,’ according to the alliance of European medical technology industry associations, Medtech Europe. But what’s the issue and what’s the answer to it? Sue Montgomery investigates a forum for hacking healthcare

The opening line of MedTech Europe’s description of the challenges facing the region’s healthcare sector is a little worrying. The issues involved are familiar in many places across the globe: an ageing population, increased trends in chronic disease, soaring healthcare costs, a shortage of healthcare professionals — all coupled with a struggling economy and a pressure to reduce public spending. Such factors were the impetus for the creation of Europe’s Contract for a Healthy Future in 2011, which laid out a five-year strategy to adapt the business model of medtech to deliver value-based innovations.

In the contract, the medical technology industry agreed to:

  • acknowledge the need for change
  • embrace, achieve and demonstrate cost-effectiveness, patient benefits, and the societal needs of patients, payers and policy-makers.
  • fulfil stakeholders’ needs through value-based innovation
  • invest in knowledge transfer with healthcare professionals and institutions to optimise healthcare delivery and quality of care
  • provide medical technology innovations with socioeconomic value that ensure sustainable, accessible healthcare and healthy ageing.

Stepping up to the contract

Fortunately, there are some people who simply ‘get it’. Dublin-based ‘healthcare matchmaker’ HealthXL is a good example — its collaborative model for catalysing meaningful, value-based innovation could provide some of the most efficient and effective innovative results yet. Part of the company’s ‘why’ is captured in a statement on its homepage: ‘Healthcare problems are not solved in isolation.’ Recognising the problems that siloed attempts at innovation create, it used the following three strategies to move beyond them:

  • Engage all key stakeholders
  • Innovate through collaboration
  • Source innovation globally

When I spoke with Martin Kelly, CEO and co-founder of HealthXL, I was so excited about what the company is doing that I told him so. One of the concerns I have — after being a nurse for more than 31 years and being involved with digital health since the early days of the electronic health record — is that innovators sometimes seem to skip the step of fully understanding the end users who their products are being created for.

That’s why — when Kelly described HealthXL’s Hack Aging event held in Melbourne, Australia in July 2015 — where older people were a key stakeholder group represented on an even playing field with clinicians, innovators, and those with the means to help bring a product to market –a sense of delight swept through me.

Speeding up medical device innovation

Martin Kelly

I asked Kelly why disruption is a valuble — maybe even necessary — step towards creating innovative solutions. ‘If you think about healthcare, it’s a very challenging environment, and we simply can’t afford the healthcare systems that we have,’ he replies. ‘We just aren’t innovating fast enough. We have to do something very different — not just a little bit better than we did last year.’

And what benefit does a ‘hacking’ environment provide? ‘We think a big part of the problem is getting everyone together, because it’s so complicated,’ he explains. ‘You have the patient, the clinician, the payer, the carer and the government. You have all of these different groups, who have different points of view and different needs. What we see is a lot of money going into startups without any input. We think what’s really needed is an environment where people can come together to really figure out what the problems are and then really figure out how they can work together on these problems.

‘That’s the idea of the hacking environment. We’ve run a couple of events now. We did one recently around ageing,’ he adds. ’There, we had seniors, young coders, designers, physicians, geriatricians and all sorts of folk who simply never meet each other in an environment like that. We also held an event recently in Cleveland focused on sleep. What was interesting was that we had leading physicians and patient groups there. Of course, they normally talk to each other — but they don’t talk to each other like this. Normally, they talk to each other when they’re trying to solve specific personal needs for a diagnosis or a treatment. But, they don’t sit back and say, “Actually, if we look at the system, it’s very broken,” and communicate at a very human level.

‘That’s the idea behind the weekends and the events that we’re doing — to try to create a forum where people can say, “Here’s a problem that I’m trying to solve, but I can’t solve it on my own.” We work with big brands, some of the biggest brands in the world, but we also work with individuals such as clinicians and patients,’ Kelly explains.

Bringing different stakeholders together

‘We’re creating a peer network, and we do the same with entrepreneurs. We meet passionate entrepreneurs who have great products and then put them in front of an older person who says, “Well, I can’t see the display,” or “This thing is too big for me” or “Too small for me,” and the entrepreneur says, “Oh, I never thought of that.” It’s very basic stuff that they’re overlooking because they don’t try to sit down together and create their solutions.

‘The key thing is that it’s not necessarily about building — not about a bunch of coders drinking Red Bull and coffee, and building something over a weekend,’ he explains. ‘It’s about bringing together these different groups in a peer environment, so they can talk about the real problem — not just the issue that they’re facing that day. Together, they can then try to create effective solutions to these massive problems that we face,’ Kelly concludes.

Hacking the medtech path for more effective solutions is apparently not about long, bleary-eyed weekends of caffeine and keyboards — but about breaking down siloes and giving a voice to all of the stakeholders involved.

Originally published at