DHI head calls for digital tech to modernise Scotland’s health system

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Ahead of the unveiling of DHI (Digital Health & Care Innovation Centre)’s 10-year strategy, its head, Professor George Crooks OBE, is calling for digital technology to drive the modernisation of Scotland’s integrated health and social care system.

Professor Crooks is at the helm of DHI and is calling for a radical technology and data-driven overhaul of the nation’s approach to care in light of an unprecedented demand on services.

Talking to Digital Health, he said: “The ways that we have always managed system pressures in the past are no longer sustainable. Simply focusing on seeking efficiencies and working the system faster and harder are not viable long-term solutions.

“We need to ensure we listen to the public, address their needs and aspirations while allaying concerns and building trust in a future where digitally supported services become an increasing part of the health and care landscape. It is naive to think that healthcare will be any different to all other aspects of our day-to-day life where these technologies are making real inroads.”

Funding to support digital-driven strategy

DHI – part of the Scottish Funding Council’s Innovation Centre Programme – has recently been awarded £2m per year for at least the next 10 years by the Scottish Funding Council. The funding has enabled DHI to set out seven priorities in its new 10-year strategy. Its overriding priority is to transform health and social care. In addition, it will also prioritise the development of digital and data infrastructures as national assets; enhance Scotland’s connected ecosystem through cross-sectorial innovation clusters; develop a future skills pipeline which delivers workforce capabilities fit for Scotland’s future; extend commercial engagement to support economic growth; health and care’s contribution to net zero targets; and to enhance Scotland’s international reputation in research and innovation.

Professor Crooks explained: “Scotland is not short of the expertise across our academic, business and public sector organisations to make a digitally enabled future a reality. In fact, we are better placed than many countries to create a better more sustainable future for the provision of health and care services, if we are willing to make the necessary investment in time, effort and money to move ahead. This investment will provide economic benefit for Scotland, creating jobs and improving the quality of life for our citizens.”

DHI, which is hosted by the University of Strathclyde in collaboration with the Glasgow School of Art, has spearheaded major digital advances since its inception in 2013. These include accelerating Scotland’s response to the covid-19 pandemic, a pioneering £5m Rural Centre of Excellence in Moray and the SCOTCAP outpatient gastroenterology technology.

Additionally, it has helped attract £30m in direct and indirect investment from public and private sources for innovation in health and care in Scotland.

Driving change through tech

According to Professor Crooks, the DHI will carefully consider how it uses digital technology, with a focus on the long-term benefits: “There are no shortages of incredible technologies and innovations that can transform the delivery of health and care services. The challenge is how we maximise the clear benefits that digital technologies can bring, if deployed sensibly, sensitively and with clarity of purpose. Just because you can use a digital solution to do something does not always mean you should.

“Key to success is the use of user centred design, working with all parties involved in a service from the individuals and families requiring health or care services, those tasked with delivering these services and those charged with managing service provision at all levels.

“By understanding the current state only then can we determine what a better more inclusive future state should look like. Once we reach agreement on that, only then should we look to see how and where on that journey could technology play a supporting role in improving citizen health and create new economic opportunities in Scotland.”

The vision of DHI includes the ongoing health needs of individuals being recorded in a data cloud that is accessible to themselves and those who need it, providing the scope for targeted care on a round-the-clock basis. In the future, the data could even be used to predict when care might be needed, helping to avoid the need for urgent care.

Helen Cross, director of research and innovation at the Scottish Funding Council, said: “We are delighted to be continuing to support innovation in what is an increasingly important area for the future health and wellbeing of people in Scotland. I’m proud that SFC has been able to support DHI right from the start. I know that with our long-term commitment to innovation funding the Digital Health & Care Innovation Centre will continue to help the people of Scotland live longer, healthier lives and provide sustainable and inclusive economic growth.”

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