How can digital innovators give their ideas the best chance of adoption in the NHS?

How can digital innovators give their ideas the best chance of adoption in the NHS?

So you’ve got a fantastic idea for a digital technology or maybe you’ve developed something which you think could add value to the NHS. How do you give your idea the very best chance of adoption in a health service which is still only just beginning to understand the potential value of digital technology as an enabler to better health and care?

I recently ran a workshop on this theme at the Yorkshire and Humber Academic Health Science Network Digital Health and Wellbeing Ecosystem meet-up.  With a room full of people who have thought about this tricky question from many different angles I think we made some way towards finding a few answers. So here are 15 tips for starters:

1.Build adoption in from the get-go

It may sound obvious but our adoption map made it clear that adoption must be built into the very beginning of your idea development. Considering at the end may only lead to having to go back to the beginning again.

2. Develop your core idea (or understanding of the problem you are trying to solve) before you think about technology

Sounds obvious too? But it’s worth noting the technology isn’t always the answer and if it is the answer then you can only know that once you’ve defined the problem well.

3. Identify your *user* *chooser* and *buyer*

The person who uses your technology (perhaps a patient) may not be the person who chooses the technology (a health practitioner) who may not be the person who can buy your technology (provider or commissioner). Take them all into account early on and identify benefit for each of them.

4. Co-design co-design co-design

Design collaboratively by enabling everyone affected by your technology to participate as early as possible – this may be everything from an administrator to an IT manager. Think who your hidden stakeholders might be and find them early on [nb. thank you Nick Whitehead for noting that procurement teams should be involved early on].

5. Work out how your technology disrupts business as usual

If your technology requires actors in the system to behave in different ways then it’s important to know very early on if they are willing to do this. If they aren’t then you may be just adding more complexity and more work into an already stretched system.

6. Are you sprinkling digital fairy dust on a system that needs fixing?

Make sure you’re not simply overlaying a digital technology on a care pathway or workflow that is in itself not working. Digital should always be an enabler to getting good stuff done.

7. The regulatory and legal stuff

If you build in an assessment of clinical safety and privacy in from the get-go you can design it into your technology. Considering this and any CE marking implications will enable you to develop something which is safe to use in the NHS and will mitigate concerns at a later date. Making sure your hosting is compliant with NHS IG Toolkit will ensure if it is fit for purpose.

8. Think data. Think metrics

What is the purpose of your digital technology and how will you know if it has achieved that purpose? Build metrics so you can measure early on and ensure you can capture the right data to evidence it. Start thinking about evaluation from the outset.

9. Build in sustainability

Take account of the whole lifecycle of a digital asset and understand the underlying costs of hosting and supporting it over its lifecycle.

10. Manage expectations

Help people you are innovating with (particularly if they are a clinical team) understand what you need from them and make sure they have the time to work with you. If they are too stretched this can easily set you back.

11. Be prepared to pivot

Avoid putting so much into developing a perfect product that you find it hard to make adapt when required – starting small and iterating is a way to mitigate this.

12. Build relationships and understand values

Pitching up and selling to the NHS doesn’t always work. You may need to take time to work alongside health practitioners, understand their values and how you can help them achieve the outcomes they are focused on.

13. Beware end of year pilots

A bit of money to kick-start a pilot at the end of a financial year can be a way of getting things moving but without a proper commitment to the time and energy required for adoption it may bear little fruit in the medium term.

14. Watch out for those pesky infrastructure barriers

Take time to understand what smart devices (or not) staff are using, whether they have public wifi, and what is possible in terms of integration and interoperability with other systems. Infrastructure can be a major barrier.

15. Get help

Academic Health Science Networks (AHSN) focus on adoption and diffusion of innovation in the NHS. The Yorkshire and Humber AHSN runs a regular Digital Health and Wellbeing Ecosystem and it’s a fantastic way for patients, citizens, digital innovators, health and care practitioners, policy makers and others to come together and share learning. Get involved!”

Lastly, a suggestion and important addition from Michael Seres via LinkedIn: ” I think you first need to understand the health economic argument and then understand who is going to pay for the technology. Those are the starting points. From there it is looking at the procurement pathway and timeline. I would argue this needs to be understand upfront. If there is no route to payment, there is no market.”

So there we go. This isn’t an exhaustive list and it very much focuses on the importance of co-design and collaboration with the NHS. If you’d like to add anything else then do get in touch. And if you fancy something a bit more visual, here’s the Prezi I shared at the workshop:

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  1. What you’ve described Victoria is the bit of the process most people miss out in project management: planning in its true sense.

    • Thank you for your feedback Martin 🙂


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