What if your doctor decided to prescribe you an app instead of a drug? Or what if your next health check up was as simple as making a video call on your lunch break?

NHSX is bringing together industry, government, clinicians and patients to kick start the next generation of digital health services in the NHS and make these types of innovations in healthcare commonplace.

Since its July 1st launch, NHSX is now leading the largest digital health and social care transformation programme in the world. It's mission is to give staff and citizens the tech they need to diagnose diseases earlier, free up time and empower people to take greater control of their own healthcare. And they’re calling all digital health innovators to be part of the journey.

On this week’s episode of HealthRedesigned, we sit down with Chief Digital Officer Tara Donnelly to see how they plan on shaping the future of health.

What personally excites you when it comes to the NHSX?

What I'm excited about is helping the innovative digital solutions that are saving staff time, saving money for the NHS and improving services get into the market. To help these innovators scale up and move from being in a small number of NHS organizations to becoming common practice is a great challenge to undertake.

I think we will see A.I. and machine learning moving into mainstream clinical practice - which is really exciting. I would love to see some examples of that happening over the next few years. But I'm also interested in tackling the unglamorous nitty gritty day to day issues in order to give staff joy at work as well as treating people and patients like grown ups and giving them the personal information they need to keep themselves healthy.

How will NHSX speed up adoption of digital innovations and support new and emerging technologies coming through?

We're looking to the market for solutions rather than automatically thinking about building our own. I think that in itself will make a difference and looking into how we can best support digital health innovators.

At the moment we do this through things like the AHSN network. There are 15 of them covering the population of England and they are all doing great work to support local innovators get their products into the NHS. We have a real ambition to accelerate scale up of some of the best digital tools across the country.

We need to understand the things that are getting in the way for digital health innovators and focus on removing those barriers so they have the best chance of succeeding.

What's your opinion on some of the market solutions out there that are already available to the general public? For example in telemedicine.

There’s a whole bunch of new entrants who are doing things in slightly different ways, some are more disruptive of the current model than others - eConsult, Babylon and Livi to name a few. I think it’s a sign of a really healthy market developing. Clearly the public is has a real appetite for this and it’s showing us the NHS has to do more to really listen to what people want in the 21st century.

That’s the core aim of NHSX - we’re aiming to create a really vibrant and diverse ecosystem with as many different choices and possibilities out there for the commissioners who are buying theses services and the patients who are accessing them.

I find it really an amazing time to be in the digital technology space because we're starting to see very evident solutions that are making a real difference.

What do you think success looks like longterm for enabling this ecosystem to flourish within NHSX?

I'd like to it become normal to ask patients to use apps to manage their health. It shouldn’t be unusual to walk out of your GP practice with a digital product rather than a drug.

There are already digital solutions out there now that are getting incredible results. Couch to 5k comes to mind, a free app built by Public Health England. It’s had 12 million downloads and 8 million people have started a run, around 50% of those have never run before. So that's 4 million new runs from a free app in a world where inactivity is killing us. So digital solutions can really make a huge difference to peoples lives.

What's a particular area within health that you think is ripe for innovation?

If I had a magic wand the clinical area that I would really go after digitally would be type 2 diabetes. I think there are already a range of fantastic products in that marketplace getting terrific results. Our Path is a great example along with Oviva, Changing Health and My Diabetes My Way that are getting staggering outcomes. IQVIA did a report a couple years ago on digital therapeutics and they showed that tools like this creating such an impact that they can be considered as effective as drug in certain cases.

Long term conditions really are the major health challenge today. They're taking up most of hospital beds and they're taking up most GP visits. If we rolled out these kind of digital solutions the savings for the NHS could be as much as £170 million pounds a year.

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Links from the episode