Is the UK leading global innovation?

This week I had the pleasure to attend the eHealth 2011 conference in Malaga. Driving in the fog to Gatwick, I was feeling slightly boyish that soon I would be walking along the sunny pavements of Malaga and getting my dose of vitamin D. How wrong could I have been. I arrived in one of the worst rain storms that Andalucía had seen in some months. Perhaps Spain isn’t so different from the UK after all.

However, what I heard this week simply endorsed my understanding that healthcare globally is going through major reforms to improve performance, such as the measurement of clinical outcomes and encouraging patients to take more responsibility in decisions around their own care. A bit like finding the Holy Grail I have often thought. But what I discovered is that the route many countries are taking is not to dissimilar to our approach in the UK and more specifically in England with the Information Revolution.

One of the key messages at almost any conference in any country I attend is that there is unanimous agreement that by involving the population in their own healthcare, significant reductions in costs can be made. In fact some researchers estimate that costs could be reduced by almost 20%. If these estimations are true, ensuring people take ownership of their health would certainly make the £20 billion savings over next four years – often know as QIPP or more frequently ‘the Nicholson Challenge’ – more realistic and achievable whilst simultaneously improving patient care.

So, what is the driver to make this happen and what will push forward the QIPP agenda? History tells us that in austere times innovation will be key.

Research recently carried out by Professor Sir Brian Jarman, into hospital mortality rates in England, found that the number of deaths in hospitals are more closely related to the number of GPs in the area it serves, than to the number of doctors in the hospital itself. Surely this is proof that it is time to grasp innovative thinking and extend support for the case to develop the virtual hospital – sometimes known as a hospital without walls.

In addition, if we want to see better health outcomes, improved equity, patient involvement, access and lower costs, then we need to focus more resources on primary and social care as well as general practice. Health systems dominated by specialist secondary care ‘have higher total costs and reduced access’, a recent World Health Organisation report says. There is clearly room for innovation here.

Given that there is no extra cash in the system, I eagerly wait to see how innovative we can become in order to improve the quality and access to healthcare in this country. After recently witnessing and enthusiastically applauding the winners at the recent HSJ Awards and eHealth Insider Awards, it is clear that there are examples of great innovation scattered across the country. My plea is that we can develop a way in which this good practice is disseminated across a federated NHS.

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