Why health technology is one of the most exciting areas of innovation

A proliferation of low-cost, always-on devices could quickly start to have a positive impact for us all.

It seems an obvious statement that technology in healthcare is a good thing, and there are some amazing innovations that have made a real difference to people’s lives. Consider the improved quality of life an artificial pacemaker can offer, or the difference that the simple hearing aid has made to millions of lives.

I work for the National Institute for Health Research Clinical Research Network. For me, technology in healthcare is one of the most important and exciting areas of innovation in the information technology environment.

Wearable health technology

An exciting area of innovation is wearable technology. Wearable technology has the “look at me! I have the latest gadget” (obligatory pose for selfie) tag, but it also has huge potential in the healthcare space. Monitoring of a person’s vital signs in a manner that is non-intrusive, and in a way that is not just cool but also reliable, can go a long way to accelerate adoption and drive innovation and let’s not forget, reduce costs.

Apple has just released IOS 8 with their new in-built app called Health and a new developer kit called HealthKit. The new app is not just another pedometer/calorie counter, in fact as Apple states, “You can allow the data from your blood pressure app to be automatically shared with your doctor.” Combined with Apple’s new watch which has a built-in heart rate sensor we could just start to see the beginning of more interactive and detailed telephone consultations with GPs.

The somewhat less glamorous body-worn patch may not have the same kudos as sporting the latest must-have Samsung or Apple wearable, but they are still key areas of innovation. Many of these devices rely on a smartphone to collate data and there is no doubt many arguments will reign over security concerns and how these will be regulated in a healthcare setting. These matters must be addressed quickly in order to maintain people’s confidence and for wearable technology to avoid the fate of a novelty item. It really is an opportunity not to be missed.

Med-tech and clinical research

The Clinical Research Network (CRN) supports many med-tech trials for new innovations. Medical device companies must provide evidence of clinical effectiveness, generated by clinical research in accordance with Nice medical technologies evaluation programme (MTEP).

The role of the CRN is to make the process of starting and delivering a clinical trial in the NHS efficient, with a focus on the highest levels of performance and quality.

The increased number of commercial med-tech related studies supported by the Clinical Research Network demonstrates increased engagement by the NHS in this area of research. The work we do supporting all trials, not just med-tech, contributes to quicker evaluation and results. This reduces the time it takes to move into the adoption stage, which means that patients can benefit sooner from new and better treatments.

Like a car with no fuel, innovation is of no use if it does not have the support and direction needed to quickly and efficiently benefit people. We stand on the threshold of the so called ‘internet of things’ which could usher in major advances in healthcare innovation with a proliferation of low-cost, always–on devices designed to improve and manage our health and wellbeing. Let’s hope that these new innovations, whatever they may be, will quickly move from theoretical to tangible and start to have a positive impact for us all.

Gareth Baxendale FBCS CITP

Head of Technology NIHR Clinical Research Network.

Vice Chair BCS Health and Care Executive