Odgers Berndtson: The Disruptive Technologies in Healthcare

Talented leaders are required to tackle data & technology challenges of immense scale & complexity.

The government-commissioned Carter report, published on 5 February 2016, pilloried NHS trusts for “immaturity” in their approach to technology. Too many hospitals, the review concluded, rely on “outdated and inefficient” paper rosters, with many failing not only to make use of e-rostering but of e-prescribing and “basic electronic catalogues for procurement” as well.

Technology is impacting on healthcare as never before. It is sparking transformation across the entire sector and increasingly that change is not only significant but truly revolutionary.

Yet as the Carter report underlines, many organisations are playing catch-up and face enormous challenges in selecting and implementing technological solutions. In order to get it right, they require tech-savvy people.

Odgers Berndtson established their specialist HealthTech practice because technology has become intrinsic to healthcare. In addition to rising demand for Chief Information Officer and Head of Technology roles, Odgers Berndtson see a growing need for Chief Executives and other senior leaders with a sound grasp of technology and its potential and implications within the context of healthcare.

Odgers Berndtson also spent a good deal of time searching for qualified doctors or other healthcare professionals who have chosen to focus on technology. The combination of insight into patient needs gained from clinical experience together with tech expertise is very desirable in today’s marketplace.

Some might still argue that the chief executive of an NHS trust does not need to be tech-minded. However, systems and data issues impinge on all aspects of the job. For example, the deficiencies in administration, prescribing and procurement highlighted by the Carter report.

Cyber-security and data protection issues must be addressed at the same time as meeting growing patient expectations around service efficiency. Increasingly empowered by instant access to information online, consumers find it enormously frustrating when healthcare providers are not equally fast out of the blocks. If, for example, the results of a blood test taken at a hospital one week have not been shared with the consultant for the follow-up appointment at a different location a week later, patients may feel disappointed or even aggrieved.

Expectations relating to telemedicine are just as high. It may be more convenient for doctor and patient alike for some consultations to take place using video conferencing tools such as Skype. Yet if there were to be a connection failure or poor quality audio leading to a doctor mishearing something important, perhaps due to a bandwidth issue at the hospital, mistakes could be made and ultimately it may be senior managers who are left to carry the can. Chief executives and Boards are increasingly accountable for technology-related issues.

US chain Kaiser Permanente is already at the point where its doctors now treat more people by email than they do in person. While this concept may seem unimaginable in the UK, we will certainly see a growth in others forms of telemedicine.

The future is now, last year’s aptly titled King’s Fund report, identified partnerships “between people and the technology that will support them to stay healthy and to engage in their own care” as one of the keys to progress. Huge opportunities are emerging with the spread of wearable devices such as Fitbits.

On the one hand (or frequently wrist!), wearables encourage consumers to self-monitor and keep active. The other side of the equation is the valuable data they generate. Some health insurers have introduced policies offering lower premiums to people who can show they take a certain number of steps a day; while in partnership with Novartis, Google has developed smart contact lenses for diabetics which monitor the levels of glucose present in the wearer’s tears and transmit this data to their smartphone. This information can then be shared with doctors.

Health data is being generated as never before and making sense of it has never been more important. Data analytics has the potential both to cut the cost of service delivery by improving efficiency and to help with the development of tailored treatment programmes. At a national level, data on outcomes relating to lifestyle factors will have a growing influence on shaping disease management strategies.

Talented individuals are required to tackle data and technology challenges of such scale and complexity. Our HealthTech practice is often asked to identify candidates with a track-record of bravery and innovation.

Leaders with tech expertise of this kind are rare within UK healthcare. Consequently, our search activity often extends into other sectors and international markets, utilising our partners in other key forward looking healthcare economies, such as the USA, Canada, Singapore, Australia, Sweden or South Africa for example.

Chris Hamilton
Thought leadership category