The Benefits of Tech in Health

Using digital and tech for good is one of the most important parts of our ethos at Wool Digital. We always strive to work with organisations who are looking to improve the world, may that be through, education, health or fundraising (just to name a few) we have a true passion for doing great things.  

Being based in Manchester, we are lucky to be surrounded by loads of other people who have a love of tech, but we are even more thankful that the wonderful team at Tech For Good Live have brought more attention to how we can do amazing things with tech through their monthly events. They also, do super entertaining and informative podcasts too!  

We love to attend Tech For Good Live events as much as possible, and their recent 'Health Tech' event certainly did not disappoint.  

The speakers were amazing and all offered a great insight into Health Tech and the different aspects of digital which are under the umbrella of the NHS. The speakers were;  

- Jason Taylor – Head of Innovation Services at Alder Hay  

- Sarah Thew – Associate Director of Digital at Health Innovation Manchester  

- Matt Edgar – Head of Design at NHS Digital  

Starting off the evening was Jason Taylor from Alder Hay Children's Hospital, @alderhay, who gave a great presentation surrounding everything which Alder Hay are doing surrounding technical innovation. The new Alder Hay Hospital was built with patients and families in mind and has 300 beds with an impressive 80% of these being single occupancy to ensure that everyone has a great experience are able to sleep at night. One thing which I loved about Jason's description of the hospital was the fact that every ward has a chef, to ensure that the children are eating food that they actually want to eat, you may think that this is a large outlay, but the cost of previously wasted food (which is now eaten and enjoyed) definitely offsets this – and everyone deserves some delicious food.  

The hospital sees around 280,000 families per year, with 80,000 of those coming through A&E and so the hospital needs to run smoothly and efficiently to ensure that these patients are treated in the best way possible. Alder Hay is in a catchment area of around 7.5 million people and is an integral health institution in the North West.  

Jason presented that the hospital are experts in what they know, and they are also aware of the challenges which they face and so are always keen to engage with companies to create the best possible solution. One of the ways to ensure that the outcomes are the best that they can possibly be is through working with schools and patients to create outcomes which are truly of value.  

Another great addition to Alder Hay is their Innovation Hub which is a mixture of co-working, tech and amazing minds (to name but a few elements) which allows partners to interact with staff and patients in a way which causes little disruption to how the hospital operates – if a clinician is on call, they can easily drop in for a chat and not worry about being out of the hospital if required for an emergency. The Innovation Hub has created a great network of people who are all working towards the same goal and agenda. Another wonderful aspect of the hub is that everything within it operates in silo of the hospital, meaning that if you break anything, there wont be any knock on effects, leading to the testing and development of some great solutions which can solve the most complex of issues.  

Next up was Sarah Thew (@sarri), from Health Innovation Manchester, who presented an interesting thought from an NHS patient that 'the system does not wrap around the patient', essentially meaning, that the system does not work. The sentiment being that although the NHS is doing amazing well, and providing some great services, they could do much better surrounding information sharing and ensuring that every NHS institution has the information on a patient that they need – for example, are they on any medication currently? Have they had any recent blood test? Or even, if we need to make an appointment with a patient, are they coming to this hospital soon so that we can make one less trip for them?  

The current way in which information is stored and shared means that clinicians are wasting lots of time by having to chase up information from other surgeries and hospitals, when really, this could all be in one centralised location which can be accessed by medical professionals everywhere.  

The lack of one centralised point of information arose when every organisation had the ability to set up their own systems and administer them how they felt best. This extended to the ability to use naming conventions which were created by the individual organisations, meaning that there is also the added task of standardising terminology.  

The challenge of getting everyone onto the same system is something which has been discussed before, however, it has several pain points, which include; politics, cost, people resist forced change along with every hospital already having a system which they are happy with. Meaning that, this solution really needed to add some value and create something which made NHS staff lives easier, not filled with more admin.  

Creating a 'shared pathology view' started with constraining the scope of the project to the top 100 chased tests, to ensure that the solution would be worthwhile for everyone, not just the people consulting on the project – the list created has been looked at by many medical specialists now and it has been agreed that it is a fairly universal list of required areas.  

Following on from this, the team needed to speak to each lab and find out what names they were using for different things, which was swiftly followed by agreeing on a set of names to be used and ensuring that everyone would be happy with the ones chosen. Whilst speaking to the different labs, it was also discovered that there were some nuances between the ways which data is recorded and so these needed to be ironed out to create a consistent effort.  

An interesting request which was made by clinicians was the addition of visual elements to allow users to quickly see if something was starting to go wrong with a patients and needed to be actioned immediately, which could lead to an even more responsive care system.  

Some of the key findings of the project, which is due to go live soon, is that too much data can be as bad as not enough – leading to a sense of overwhelm and taking away understanding of how to action the data. It was a large message throughout the project that professionals didn’t want to add to their workload, they wanted something that could enrich what they do and make everything easier.  

Thanks to evolving medical research, there are plenty of other aspects which may be included in the future, such as, family history and environmental impact.   

When questioned if the project could go further than Greater Manchester, it was great to hear that the system already uses international standards and so is not restricted to the area in which it is used.  

The final presentation of the evening came from Matt Edgar, (@Mattedgar), Head of Design at NHS Digital, who presented some of the challenges which the NHS Digital team have when it comes to design and development, and how they overcome these.  

One of the greatest principles of the design process for NHS Digital is to empower the user and make them feel like they are in charge – something which I personally found really interesting, as I'd never really thought that you are in charge of your medical care (not in a negative way) but after some mulling it over, you are definitely the lead. Something which I think is quite amazing.  

Matt added that soon there will be an online version of 111 - now for many, that might not be too exciting, but as someone who has used the service a few times, I can't wait to see the online solution and would also be really interested in hearing the effect it has, both on users but also the NHS. Along with this, NHS Digital are also working on a project to allow people to manage their health care and records, which obviously helps with the empowerment aspect. A few challenges which have arisen from this project surround creating a secure way of user validation for data protection purposes along with thinking of ways to combat digital accessibility and inclusion.  

Some of the current activities and services which NHS Digital are working on include:  

- Getting help urgently.  

- Managing a long term condition.  

- Finding apps to manage your health.  

- Managing your own care with personal health records.  

- Viewing your GP record with NHS.UK.  

- Proving identity for digital health services.  

- Getting online with free WIFI services in GP surgeries and hospitals.  

When designing for the NHS, there are three key factors which need to be considered; clinical needs, practical needs and emotional needs. Most importantly, these cannot be thought about as individual needs, they need to be thought of as a trio. For example; a solution may be safe and effective, but it might not be used – making it impractical.  

An important aspect of designing for the NHS is ensuring that it follows the 6 principles of Human Centred Design;  

- The design is based upon an explicit understanding of users, tasks and environments.  

- Users are involved throughout design and development.  

- The design is driven and refined by user-centred evaluation.  

- The process is iterative.  

- The design addresses the whole user experience.  

- The design teams includes multidisciplinary skills and perspectives.  

Following these steps helps to make the process as robust as possible, creating something which is built entirely with the users in mind.  

All three presentations for the evening were extremely interesting and insightful, leading to a great evening of learning all things Health Tech. Thanks again to the Tech For Good Live team for putting together another great evening!  

If you were at the event, or just want to talk more about all things Health Tech, drop us a line at or give us a call on 0161 635 0045.  

0161 635 0045