COVID-19: How the UK's regional health tech cluster is responding

In the recent techUK webinar, ‘COVID-19: How Yorkshire’s health tech cluster is responding’, local experts discussed how digital health tools benefited the ease and speed of the region’s pandemic response.
By Sophie Porter
01:29 AM

Many of their observations on digital preparedness and strategic innovation were mirrored by members of the Yorkshire Imaging Collaborative (YIC) who discussed their platform in an exclusive interview with Healthcare IT News.

WHY IT MATTERS

Yorkshire & Humber’s existing commitment to health tech meant that the transition to remote working already had a head-start, as the crisis “really brought home the power that digital can bring in health and care,” noted Dylan Roberts, chief digital and information officer at Leeds City Council. With digital infrastructures already in place, the region was able to accelerate uptake of health tech solutions with relative ease in accordance with necessity.

The speakers highlighted how the crisis had relaxed the boundaries of control between companies and systems, now linked by a common purpose. This means that healthcare technologies are operating more collaboratively with people across the community offering their support more altruistically through downloadable design blueprints, free short-term licenses or otherwise unlikely partnerships. This extends outside of health tech, as commercial manufacturers and design workshops offer their services to assist in the effort against COVID-19.

These partnerships are often overseen by integrated care systems (ICS) with a particular focus on maintaining a regional approach to care. For example, by signposting requests for PPE to local centres, ICSs alleviate pressure on centralised national helplines and accelerate the supply chain. “Regional tools are more agile,” said Aejaz Zahid, innovation hub director at Yorkshire & Humber Academic Health Science Network, as they facilitate tighter, faster feedback loops and encourage community participation.

Concentrating on the local also extends to evaluation. “Some things will go into the system and work well and some won’t,” said Dr. Neville Young, director of enterprise and innovation at Yorkshire & Humber Academic Health Science Network, emphasising that there must be appropriate tools in place to get citizens involved in new diagnostic decision-making to influence learnings on what solutions have and have not been effective. There was discussions on the development of a framework that would capture these findings and feed them back to support the sustainability of innovations post-crisis.

The speakers noted an increased sense of social responsibility and how it would influence the legacy of the pandemic, particularly around speed of service. The supply chain has been altered with the user more emphatically at the centre, more lateral thinking methodologies enlisted and collaborative workshopping software like Miro used to accelerate product prototyping. There is a more active stance towards tech adoption, with fast-tracked risk assessments emphasising a willingness to innovate and improve on products through continued evaluation and development after deployment. It was acknowledged that not everyone is digitally literate and, as tech adoption, alternative treatment and health digitisation become the new normal, this must be a core consideration to avoid anyone being excluded from healthcare.

THE LARGER PICTURE

Many of these insights were echoed in an exclusive interview with the YIC, whose region-wide network of hospital trusts share technology to streamline and transform access to essential health data and providing consistent care. Established three years ago, the Agfa Healthcare Xero Exchange Network supplies a cohesive database of medical images and associated reports that can be accessed by professionals in linked facilities saving weeks of manual work, facilitating better-informed and faster decision-making and opening up patient treatment choices.

Dr. Dan Fascia, clinical lead at the YIC, described how they responded to the crisis confidently: “I can honestly say we have done nothing differently because of COVID-19 with regards to changing our trajectory with this project. And that’s because just having this in place and having it at such an advanced stage of deployment meant we were ready for something like this. To think that you might have to suddenly work against a force like this as a region rather than as individual trusts, it would have required something like this and we had it ready.”

ON THE RECORD

Fascia took a similar view to the webinar participants in regards to the legacy following the pandemic: “COVID-19 had forced us to look at new ways of working and some of them shouldn’t go away because they’ve been very positive. One of the big things that we mustn’t look back on is the relaxation of some of the information governance anxieties. If you can relax them now I think you can look forward and be more sensible and progressive about your policies in the future.”

Paul Jackson, head of marketing at Agfa Healthcare focused on the need for regionalised approaches to healthcare: “The idea to connect up the whole of England, in reality that’s not what you need. The need is more regionalised. Regional strategy is where we are seeing innovation in the resources available.”

Fascia conculded: “97% of patients receive care in the Yorkshire region, so it makes sense to [develop a] performance regional network rather than to invest heavily in a national network. But when you get to a position that all regions have networks then suddenly it’s not such a big task to index all of the regional hubs. And that is going to be the future vision for England.”

 

The ‘COVID-19: How Yorkshire’s Health Tech Cluster is Responding’ webinar was moderated by Dr. Victoria Batton, CIO of Mindwave Ventures, and hosted: Dylan Roberts, chief digital and information officer at Leeds City Council; Dr. Neville Young, director of enterprise and innovation at Yorkshire & Humber Academic Health Science Network; Aejaz Zahid, South Yorkshire and Bassetlaw innovation hub director at Yorkshire & Humber Academic Health Science Network; Lauren Bevan, head of healthcare at BJSS; and Jamie Innes, product director at Inhealthcare.