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Redefining Healthcare Innovation: Shifting Mindsets Beyond Technology

Healthcare is currently being transformed by digital innovation, from improving people’s health and experience of care, to making workflows more efficient for NHS staff. However, the uptake and use of technology remains challenging and there is still much to be achieved to deliver on the promise of digital transformation.   

The King’s Fund recently sought to address these issues and discuss what innovation really means in healthcare at their in-person conference on innovating for change. We were delighted to have the opportunity to work with The King’s Fund on this event, which brought together leading innovators to discuss the transformative potential of digital innovation in healthcare and how to overcome the barriers that have prevented its widespread adoption. 

Sonia Patel, System Chief Information Officer at NHS England, and Fiona Edwards, Chief Executive NHS Frimley, set the tone for the conference when they took to the stage to talk about unleashing a culture of innovation. 

Sonia opened the discussion by saying: “Innovation is not about shooting for the moon, more than anything else it is about keeping up with new techniques and technologies that can improve clinical outcomes for both patients and staff.” 

This sentiment was echoed by Fiona: “Digital transformation is not just about the technology, but also about the clinical benefits that will improve patient outcomes and about the staff who will deliver that change.”  

Innovation relies on both invention – the creation of new ideas, services or care models – and adoption. Adopting and implementing new technologies presents a number of challenges, from disrupting existing workflows to creating digital maturity gaps between organisations, and between health and care. That’s why it’s important to consider what adopting digital innovation means for all stakeholders.  

Pritesh Mistry, Digital Technologies Fellow at The King’s Fund, explained: “This is about how we support everyone to move towards more digital organisations. It’s not just about having a digital general practice or a digital acute hospital, it’s about how we enable the whole patient journey to be digitalised,” he said in an interview.   

Another key point of discussion was the need for leaders to set the tone and create a culture of trust and collaboration, where failure is not only accepted – but celebrated as an opportunity to learn and grow. As Haris Shuaib, Head of Clinical Scientific Computing at Guy’s and St Thomas NHS FT, put it: “We have to accept that a large proportion of projects will fail, for all sorts of acceptable reasons.” 

The pressure to succeed and produce evidence-based results can create a fear of failure, but it is essential to reposition failure as a valuable lesson in the innovation process. We can make failure useful, but only if innovators feel free to experiment and those who control budgets are realistic about the timeline for change. By fostering an innovation mindset that embraces failure, leaders can create an enabling environment for digital transformation, but because of the way funding is distributed, failure can feel painful, when it should only be seen as growing pains. 

Having established that innovation and failure go hand in hand, speakers at the conference then called for a change in mindset. They said we need to move away from fear and blame to a culture where we can innovate safely, supported by leaders and led by empowered staff. When failure does occur, it’s important to focus on the learnings, on what we can build on, and to remember the end goal, what it is we’re innovating for. Alongside accepting failure, we also need to be more vocal about it – and this is exactly what the delegates were invited to do.  

After the introductory session, delegates had the opportunity to learn from leading innovators, participate in interactive workshops and work together to find ways to embed collaborative working cultures that allow innovation to thrive. They were welcomed into a space where they could speak openly about their experiences, challenges and failures in adopting innovative techniques and processes.   

With speakers such as Lee Rickles, Care Record Programme Director and Chief Information Officer at Humber and North Yorkshire ICS, and Tremaine Richard-Noel, Head of Emerging Technology & Automation Accelerator Programme Director, Northampton General Hospital NHS Trust, these interactive workshops were the highlight of the conference. They explored topics such as virtual wards, patient records, AI and automation and more, after which delegates were given practical advice on how to bring an innovation mindset to the workplace and lead effective teams through digital change.   

The conference was a call to action for the healthcare industry to come together and share knowledge and experiences to drive innovation and transformation at scale. The day was filled with exciting sessions and engaging discussions. By sharing experiences, challenging assumptions and accepting failure, attendees at the King’s Fund conference demonstrated their commitment to creating a healthcare system that embraces innovation and delivers better outcomes for patients and staff alike. 

Jodie Storrow, Clinical Operations Manager at University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire, summed it up perfectly: “Today reminded me that we need the right people at the table to make things happen and be successful – from nurses and consultants to senior management and suppliers, the key is to have a diversity of perspectives, so we don’t miss anything.”