What now and where next for healthcare?

The view from Professor Shafi Ahmed

I’m delighted to welcome you to this first issue of the Connected Health Journal. I hope you find it insightful and informative. Every quarter we’ll feature different and diverse voices. There’ll be people from healthcare, technology and related fields who will share news and views, generate discussion, prompt debate, and bring ideas and innovations. Importantly, it will be a place to celebrate our successes and achievements from across the healthcare landscape.

The mother of invention

Right now, we have a golden opportunity to shape the future of healthcare. In my job as a surgeon at The Royal London Hospital, Barts Health NHS Trust, this is something I’m incredibly passionate about. Varied views and thinking will be vital for the future of healthcare. This goes to the core of what I think the NHS stands for – positive progress and innovation out of diversity, necessity and sometimes adversity too.

As we recently celebrated the NHS’s 73rd birthday, it's a good time to take stock. We’ve all been through an incredible, incomparable and exhausting year. I’m extremely proud of the resilience of our healthcare system in the UK – what we’ve overcome and achieved, all thanks to some amazing people, their commitment and hard work. Committed, adaptable, caring and supportive – just a few of our qualities. All of these will be very important in the future, because we have a lot on our plates as I’m sure you know only too well. But if we are to emerge from this latest set of challenges with an even stronger healthcare system, we simply must reinvent how we work and think. It’s essential we build an NHS that puts people first – patients, colleagues and the wider community of healthcare professionals.

Big picture, even bigger challenges

I know everyone is focused and playing their part in recovery plans. And while I don’t underestimate the challenges, I’m convinced that a smarter, connected, more coordinated and universal use of technology can help. It’s key to getting healthcare on a firmer, more future-ready footing. Technology tends to snowball, so we could reach our goals faster than many of us might imagine is possible. My optimism is partly down to seeing the leaps we’re already making in 5G-enabled telesurgery and training. Like this excellent example from Coventry University which uses 5G virtual reality headsets. Also, when I teach, using high-tech and low-cost technologies like GigaCube (which turns 5G/4G into WiFi) and wearable cameras has become simple and affordable. It’s made training effortless and creates exciting possibilities for increasing access to skills and knowledge.

Healthcare: integrated and connected

I’m excited about the future of healthcare. The NHS Long Term Plan is a rare opportunity in the organisation’s history to ensure that healthcare is in the best shape it can be by 2030. That’s why I’m supporting a future service that addresses inequalities and joins up social and primary care provision. The planning effort this will require is monumental, and I’m convinced that technology can help. After all, integrated healthcare requires integrated planning. So, the many and varied parts of health and care first need to be connected. From there, they can get better at talking, sharing, coordinating and collaborating. Technology can help us break down the walls. A truly integrated approach will always be planned – by design, not by chance. This will help us deliver the right care in the right way, at the right time and in the best location. It will also enable a future system that isn’t so reliant on secondary care. And a future organisation that is smarter at workforce planning, as well retaining, rewarding and valuing its staff. I believe in the plan’s ambitious aims to:

  • Improve patient experiences and outcomes
  • Put much greater emphasis on prevention and education
  • Save money and be ultra-efficient
  • Focus on previously underserved patients like young adults and minority communities
  • Provide care that’s more personalised and responsive to patients’ needs
  • Deliver more services that are closer to where people live or inside their home
  • Give quicker access to diagnostics
  • Offer remote care for diabetes, asthma, hypertension, and more illnesses and conditions
  • Build a holistic vision of healthcare that leads to better patient outcomes.

But I also think these are only achievable with the right technology to enable change and the right partnerships to add value. The latter is one of the reasons why I decided to become an ambassador for Vodafone in connected healthcare.

Let’s keep the conversation going

In my role, I’ll be putting a lot of emphasis on dialogue, openness, and transparency. As the recent NHS data opt-out consultation showed, it is easy to lose people’s trust. In this case, when the conversation isn’t truly transparent or the communications are unclear. But I want everyone to feel you have a chance to shape what connected health and care will look like in the future.. That's another way I hope the Connected Health Journal can play a part. By sharing viewpoints, interfacing with patients and practitioners, and showing how technologies and innovations offer huge potential. Some of this is already happening – as you’ll read about in this issue. Now’s the time to maintain momentum and keep our minds open to change.

Author Professor Shafi Ahmed

Professor Shafi Ahmed is a multi-award-winning cancer surgeon working at The Royal London Hospital. He was the Associate Dean of Bart’s Medical School and an elected member of the council of the Royal College of Surgeons of England where he led the international and global health programme.

Professor Shafi is a member of the NHS Assembly, advising the government on the NHS Long Term Plan. He has also been recently appointed as an advisor to the Abu Dhabi government for the digital transformation of health and innovation. He teaches at Imperial College, Barts Medical School, Queen Mary University, Bradford University, Harvard Medical School and Singularity University – and has set up surgical education programmes in over 20 countries, as well as in conflict zones.

As a TEDx speaker, Professor Shafi has streamed live operations using Google Glass, Virtual Reality, social media and on TV in the BAFTA-shortlisted ‘Operation Live’. One of the top 20 global influencers in the future of digital health, he’s renowned for being ‘the most-watched surgeon in human history’.

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