HSJ Solutions and the challenge of spreading innovation in the NHS

Healthy global ideas concept with stethoscope and globeThere is no shortage of innovation in healthcare at the moment, whether it’s augmented reality helping surgeons, blockchain for secure patient records, smart camera technology for remote diagnosis, smart homes for the elderly or one of hundreds of other fascinating innovations.

The challenge for the NHS is twofold.  Firstly it has to integrate these technologies into the system, and it has a number of official channels by which this is supposed to occur, whether it’s via the Academic Health Science Networks (AHSNs) that are dotted around the country, or the Test Bed sites that are designed to allow new technologies and approaches to be tested in a live environment.

The second challenge is to disseminate things that work so that the best practices and procedures are available to people throughout the country rather than in pockets of excellence.

Spreading the health

That’s something that remains a challenge, and NHS England launched the NHS Innovation Accelerator (NIA) last year to help do a better job of spreading innovations.  They attempt to do this by backing individuals that have achieved local success, and provides them with some support in scaling up their innovations.

Alas, in its first year of operation, just 17 innovation fellows were selected, so one would imagine they are merely scratching the surface of what is happening, both inside the NHS and outside it.

This lack of breadth has encouraged a number of third party platforms to emerge and try and fill that void.

For instance, last year saw the launch of The Academy of Fab NHS Stuff.  It’s a project backed by noted healthcare commentator Roy Lilley, who wanted a platform to help share the good things that are happening in the NHS.

“For as long as I can remember I have been dreaming of a time when all the good things, ideas, innovations and concepts, that are the backbone of the NHS, could be shared.The NHS is full of enthusiastic, clever, keen, passionate people with a strong sense of vocation.  They want to do the right thing and to do things right.

It encourages staff in the NHS to share examples of best practice at a local level in the hope that it provides a ready and able repository for staff hoping to change things but needing a bit of help to do so.

Or you have the recently launched HSJ Solutions portal.  This provides a searchable database of all Health Service Journal award nominees and winners since 2013, together with a summary of each project and the key personnel to contact should you wish to replicate their success.  At the moment the database contains around 1,000 entries, and the hope is that they will eventually be ‘live’ and therefore updated as projects evolve.

The challenge with many of these things is that change itself is incredibly difficult, especially in an environment such as the NHS that is so time poor.

I’ve written before about the importance of ‘slack‘ to innovation (both the ideation and implementation ends).  It gives us free time to both come up with ideas (or locate them elsewhere), and then to do the nitty gritty of implementing them.  It underpins initiatives such as the 20% time that was so well known at Google.

“Slack time does something more than what we thought,” researchers say. “You need a creative idea for sure, but you also need to tell people about it and you need to put some effort into raising money.  Slack time may give you the opportunity to do those mundane, execution-oriented tasks.”

In the NHS context, these databases assume that staff have the time to search them for ideas, but more importantly, the time and resources to build a team, secure funding, gain political support and all of the numerous other things that go into implementing innovation successfully.

It isn’t a solitary endeavor, and therefore requires a level of organizational support that I’m not sure the NHS allows its staff.  Nonetheless, HSJ Solutions launches this month, so check out the video above, or the website for more information.

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