Disruption is not something that has many positive connotations. We usually try to avoid disruption, however for change agents within health and care it is not only positive, it is necessary. Disruptive innovations drive forward the required changes to make processes more efficient, staff morale higher and patient’s more confident. Getting people to be innovative is one challenge, getting people to accept the innovations of others is quite another. Within health and care disruptive innovations are often disregarded and change is fiercely resisted. A perfect example of this is drawn from technological advances in the field and a seemingly high level of reluctance to adopt them.
Do Disruptive Innovations really have a place in health and care?
Technology is everywhere and the majority of people have accepted and even embraced this. When we go home we expect to use technology, we buy devices that make our lives easier. It is therefore surprising that this type of thinking has not translated into the health and care world.
It is not a case of technology needing to be developed for use in health and care, it is a case of the health and care world making the decision to use what is already available. Being able to use technology such as virtual reality and augmented reality to carry out virtual dissections or to practice complex surgical procedures is a fantastic example of disruptive innovation. Similar technology can also lead to real-time diagnostics in the operating room which means patients do not have to wait for life saving surgery and robotic surgical interventions result in fewer complications, short hospital stays, reduced costs, less pain and less scarring. These types of technology are in existence and currently being used in medical institutions worldwide, however, they are yet to be routinely included in medical settings within the UK.
With the announcement of the Apple Watch being released in 2015, smartwatches have come to the forefront of people’s minds. The fact is that ‘wearable tech’ such as smartwatches has been around for a while and people who are dedicated to fitness have been using them to monitor their own health statistics. Blood pressure, how fast your heart is beating, how much exercise you have engaged in are just a few of the stats that can be accessed just by glancing at your wrist. It needs to be questioned why these forms of technology are not being brought into hospitals. Why are patients and healthcare professionals happy for health statistics to be checked at certain intervals and recorded on a piece of paper when a person sat at home with a smartwatch can monitor the same information with more efficiency and upload it to a monitoring programme with the potential to flag up any alarming data? The potential of this type of technology is enormous if the health and care field would adopt it and steer its use down the medical track. For now it is used by people increasing or maintaining their fitness levels but in the future it could be track patient’s data and make diagnosis quicker.
An increase in the use of technology within health and care can also lead to more effective technological developments. Artificial Intelligence (AI) has the potential to learn over time and to aid in discovering patients who have the potential to become ill as well as diagnosing people who already display symptoms of illnesses. The more data that is collected and held on patient’s health the more accurate any form of diagnosis will be and with AI people can be screened for diseases or illnesses, flagging up the people who are high risk of contracting or developing them. With early diagnosis the prognosis of any disease or illnesses is better and informing a patient they are at risk gives them the opportunity to make lifestyle choices that could be beneficial. However, this relies upon technology being implemented which records the data necessary to make these screenings or diagnoses.
There are so many ways that technology can make a positive impact within health and care, both for the staff and the patients, it can be difficult to understand why changes have not yet been made to bring it into use.
Technology cannot drive itself forward
Technology may be able to do many things but it cannot drive itself into use. The decision to make changes and use technology to its full potential must come from the people who will be using it. If it is not accepted it will fail. The fact that 100% of ‘successful’ projects and 98% of ‘unsuccessful’ projects both have good technical solutions or approaches, shows that it is not the actual technology being used that makes the difference, it is the response to it. It is clear from the evidence that technology has its place in health and care. It can make processes quicker and safer and departments can run more efficiently. Resistance to change appears to be the standing in the way of implementing these much needed developments.
Are NHS workers becoming more disruptive?
The health and care system has traditionally been based on a compliance system with a hierarchy that implements procedures. However, the past decade has seen a significant rise in social media use. The majority of workers use sites such as Facebook and Twitter for personal use but these social media networks are actually breaking down barriers and removing the hierarchy that has existed in health and care since the beginning. There is pressure on organisations to engage in social media which allows for workers, and patients, to read and understand the thoughts behind those decisions. Technology also allows direct communication in the form of a tweet, message, email etc. from workers to managers higher up than they would ever have been able to access prior to the emergence of the technology.
The hierarchical system, whilst being slowly broken down, still does not leave a lot of scope for staff to be innovative or to question the way things are done. Over the past couple of years however, there seems to be shift towards promoting innovation and disruption with the implementation of NHS Change Day. This initiative empowers workers to take action to improve health and care. It gives workers a voice and allows them to vocalise how they would like to do something different. If this is shared by enough people and services improve then the goal is achieved.
By giving workers and patients this voice, the NHS is arguably allowing for a greater degree of disruption and innovation to be achieved. This is a fantastic start and is definitely sending out the right message, however, it is currently very individualistic. People make pledges about how they can improve or make a difference individually. When it comes to innovation and major changes in a field such as health and care there needs to be this belief that change can happen, but there also needs to be a sense of community which welcomes the change. People need to accept change together and reduce resistance. Only then will changes such as implementing new technologies be truly successful.