The 1960’s were radical times for all those who played their part in the ‘swinging’ decade. Amidst revolutionary shifts in the world of the arts and social policies, as an era it would lay the foundations for the “information age” that came to the dominate the turn of the millennium. It is within this context that an observation made by one of the founders of Intel, Gordon Moore, would go on to set a precedent in informatics that holds true to the present day:
“Moore’s law” is the observation that, over the history of computing hardware, the number of transistors in a dense integrated circuit will double approximately every two years.
Industries based on these technologies have undergone radical changes and have had to adjust and innovate accordingly. We see these changes in our everyday lives, smaller and smaller computers, smartphones, 3D printers, electronic banking systems. But what of our healthcare system? The NHS is no stranger to criticism for its inefficiencies. A strong case can be made in favour of greater technological integration within the system. The challenge lies in that organisations of the size and scope of the NHS do not lend themselves to the same rates of innovation as technology in general. A machine can be expected to double its productivity every two years. The same cannot be said for human beings. We refer to this disparity as an “innovation gap”.
The rates at which we can evolve in our culture and human performances are, by comparison, largely incremental. The gap between this rate of change and that of exponential technologies is the one that must be filled in order for the NHS to unlock its potential. Credit where it’s due, the adoption of basic forms of digital tech are being rolled out system wide. Just three percent of GPs offered patients online appointments, repeat prescriptions and access to medical records at the beginning of last year. This figure now stands at over 97%. This, along with surgeons’ forthcoming obligation to collect clinical outcomes from all their patients as early as next year, illustrates an openness on the part of the NHS to integrate technologies into their system.
But what might the NHS learn from similarly large organisations that might help it in closing the innovation gap? Take Google, a company with over a billion customers that offers highly integrated products on all levels. Google is a perfect example of a company that builds and develops its technologies to meet the requirements of scale. Scale underpins all of its releases and the development of new products. Decision-makers at Google understand that they could not possibly serve their one billion customers without this principle at the core of its daily operations. Likewise, the NHS (over a million patients daily) must embrace a similar attitude towards scale as a basis for innovation if it is to address its own lacklustre reputation.
Ultimately, the NHS will be judged on the delivery of results. In doing so, it must address barriers and exploit enablers of scale, all the while building a system-wide culture of change and innovation. It faces the challenges of an ageing population, new and expensive treatments for more long-term conditions, all taking place under the spotlight of a highly informed press and a government favouring austerity. The stakes are high and the importance of delivery must not go understated.
Image labelled for reuse on Google Search Engine (3rd November 2015)