Neil Mortimer

Neil Mortimer

Working together with digital tools

Neil Mortimer, business manager and digital lead at the West Midlands Academic Health Science Network (WMAHSN), explains the value of collaboration in growing the digital health economy.

There are many strands to our organisation’s work, but we’ve really intensified our focus around digital health to help drive innovations. While this involves close working with the NHS to benefit from technology and innovation, we’re also focused on helping industry to play a vital role.

As well as working with larger corporations, we act as a catalyst for start-ups, provide grow-on space for more established small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and support the third sector and social enterprises. Underpinning those aspects is a constant desire to engage digital businesses, with patients, clinicians and/or academics around specific areas.

We aim to make these relationships as collaborative and inclusive as possible, but equally, we act as a critical friend, encouraging everyone to constantly analyse what their products or services might do for patients and care professionals. Something might sound a great idea, but unless you take time to have discussions with others who can offer context and knowledge, it could be that someone has already had the same idea, and that their model is far more advanced than your own.

Equally, you must discover at an early stage what your vision can deliver – and what it can’t. Mentoring and collaboration can often help someone identify where their model needs fine-tuning – or even more radical changes. Sometimes too, people need to see they’re heading in the wrong direction.

The concept of Health 2.0 has been around for 15 years and was triggered by the late adoption of technology by the health sector.  The vision of getting technologists and health professionals to “horizon scan” together is still really attractive to us; that’s why we’ve established Health 2.0 West Midlands.

At one stage, all the talk was about the cloud. Now its more likely to be talking about augmented reality, artificial intelligence and blockchain. It doesn’t matter what the technology is though, you always need to pause, reflect, gain insight from others and rationalise what any given technology can genuinely do for you. Adding technology to a flawed business or care model doesn’t help anyone, and all its likely to do is cost you more to fail.

In such niches as mental health and sexual health, innovative digital tools can reach individuals who often don’t access healthcare until its too late.

Augmented reality can be used to show patients how to take medicine, and they can also be guided by virtual nurses, just as people can be trained in surgical techniques through virtual reality. Even three dimensional (3D) printing is now allowing surgeons to hone their skills on plastic facsimiles of real organs.

Sometimes it may be that start-ups are looking at the wrong form of technology. They think an app is the ideal delivery vehicle, but it could be that a digital platform would suit them better.

Health 2.0 West Midlands brings together people who want to see technology transform care, whether they’re patients, developers, clinicians or researchers. We’ve found that when people from different backgrounds collaborate, problems can be more readily overcome, and really innovative solutions can emerge.

Above all, our work is about recognising that just as everyone is different, everyone’s business has differing needs. Some want access to finance, others need technical input or clinical advice, another might need guidance about cyber-security or enhancing their skill-sets.

Its not always simple, and its rarely easy, but if you see collaboration as the art of the possible, its amazing just how much can be achieved.”