A technology-enabled health and care workforce for the future?

When will health and care services take full advantage of new technologies, or are we doomed – or perhaps blessed – to be always half a generation behind the rest of the world? 

Prompted by the Topol review WSP recently brought together a group of academics to help us think through the opportunities presented by the emerging innovations in  digital health, artificial intelligence, robotics, genetics and biotech. These advances are regularly covered in our media, but they often seem to be ‘for the few’.  For example, we read about how genomics can provide early diagnosis for rare conditions – tremendously important for a relatively small number of individuals. However when we look around we see how other technology has an impact on everyone, and on every sphere of our lives.  Except perhaps in health and care services?  I downloaded the NHS App today and no, ‘my practice was not fully connected to it yet’.  So in the near future I will have one place to go to for useful advice, and they did ask my permission for them to let me know when the service would be fully up and running. 

The Topol question, however, was about the workforce.  How can we best train and develop the skills, roles and culture within the health and care workforce to support the adoption of new technologies?  We framed that discussion using a population health approach so as to avoid getting excited about brilliant but relatively narrow applications.  And we sought to think broadly about the importance of relationships and the human side of caring that can never be replaced.  The thought piece we produced, which you can download here, was less a comment on Topol and more an emerging framework for asking the right questions and taking the first steps to quantifying the challenge to the workforce from new technologies across the whole system.

However, it’s impossible to consider the impact of technology on the health and care workforce unless you also consider its potential impact on health needs and service pathways.  So, in our discussions, we took two examples.  The first was focussed on people with Type 2 diabetes; £14bn worth of spend, and potential benefits from technology from pre-diabetes to supporting people with complications arising from their condition.  And the second the urgent care pathways that dominate much of the discussion and planning in our emerging integrated care systems.  Coincidently also about £14bn of spend, and great potential for predictive analytics to tailor pre-hospital urgent care solutions, as well as the more ‘traditional’ telecare solutions that enable people to be supported at home. 

Our thought process led us to some insights that we’d like to share.  These are a selection:

  1. In building the evidence for the benefits of new technologies we should not lose sight of the challenging and growing number of people with multiple, complex and frail needs.
  2. When introducing new technologies we need to be just as sure about what we might lose in terms of the human-factors in our care systems as what we will gain if the main benefit from a new technology is a more productive workforce.
  3. We need to understand why technology adoption in the health and care sector seems to be slower than elsewhere, and whether that is a good or a bad thing!
  4. Training and education is changing with a greater emphasis on modular and work based training.  Adopting new technologies adds to this mix and needs to be adopted extensively.
  5. If the adoption of new technologies is partly about improved productivity and efficiency we need to explore what it is that our future workforce will be able not to need do, or to do less of.

You can read the full thought piece here, and we’d love to hear what you think…