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Tech 100, profiling the key figures driving the digital agenda in Scotland

Wednesday, October 21, 2015
Alan Robertson, Holyrood Magazine

Job Title/Organisation: Chief Executive Officer, Digital Health & Care Institute

Justene Ewing (@JusteneEwing / @dhiscotland)

What does your role involve?

As the chief executive officer, and employee number one, I was responsible for establishing the vision and providing leadership and strategic direction for the DHI and its employees and stakeholders to deliver against its stated mission and purpose.

That mission is that the Digital Health and Care Institute is established by the Scottish Funding Council to empower Scotland to scale its health and care services in order to meet current and future demographic challenges and will position Scotland to export into rapidly growing health and care markets worldwide.  We are a core participant in the delivery of the Scottish Government economic strategy and in the Scotland Can Do Framework.

Importantly, we also focus on delivering patient and user centric products and services that will significantly improve the quality of life and health and wellness outcomes for the people of Scotland through exciting and new digital technologies that may not even exist yet.

Scotland has the digital infrastructure, the capability and the expertise to fulfil its potential as an international centre of excellence and innovation in the growing field of digital health. The DHI is tasked with leading “Team Scotland” to simplify the current innovation process by bringing together communities, NHS Scotland, local authorities, private industry, third sector and HEIs to challenge and transform health and care delivery.

The DHI stimulates the creation of new products and services backed by the experience from health professionals within NHSScotland, social care professionals in the many local authorities throughout Scotland, and a significant number of third sector and charitable organisations.

What has been the most rewarding piece of work you've undertaken?

Mylittleone: mylittleone enables mothers to bond with their baby via a camera which is attached to the incubator and a video is transmitted via secure wired connection to the mylittleone server. The mother uses a tablet to wirelessly view a video feed securely to the tablet device.

This can be used in any setting where the mother can be cared for after the delivery, including adult intensive care areas and the postnatal ward. Coupling several cameras to one tablet allows a mother to see twins or triplets via the one tablet. Any potential distressing medical procedures can be blocked by the nurses in the unit via an innovative hardware based network switch –‘pause’ button - so the mother is unable to see the video feed but a comfort message is displayed instead.

The benefits for patients are immense. As any parent knows, when a child is born prematurely or is in a special care baby unit, not being able to see your new-born is incredibly distressing. mylittleone offers parents the opportunity to be closer to their baby during this very distressing time.

Many times mothers are only able to look at photos of their baby. If a mother is very ill in an acute setting after giving birth, mylittleone allows her to view and see her baby, something which she would have been unable to do previously. This important mother/infant bonding can happen with more ease and with no physical discomfort or danger to either the mother or baby.

The mother is able to see a moving baby and this makes her baby more real. There is no other product available which gives parents the opportunity to be able to bond with their child during these early stages of life.

mylittleone uses the latest, secure technology. Although staff may be familiar with modern technology in their personal lives, there can be understandable reticence when using technology within a fast paced caring environment. We are glad to say that the clinicians who were concerned about using the equipment have found it easy to use and areal support to their patients.

This has made the IT teams part of the whole solution with feedback helping to shape further developments. The technical solution also uses the latest NHS IT governance meaning all IG protocols are adhered to. 

How can Scotland bridge the digital skills gap?

Following the 2011 spending review, the Scottish Government required that every public service organisation has a role to play in growing the Scottish economy. With £1.5bn invested in education and research every year - a quarter of a billion specifically invested in research and knowledge exchange - the Scottish Funding Council created the innovation centres with the mission: “Innovation Centres will create sustainable and internationally ambitious open-communities of university staff, research institutes, businesses and others to deliver economic growth and wider benefits for Scotland.” 

DHI was one of the first three innovation centres created, focussing on the digital health innovation in health and social care integrated services, and specifically addressing where technology can support, enhance and establish care away from primary or acute care services where appropriate.

Scotland is helping bridge the digital skills gap through the DHI by funding the creation and implementation of new digital technologies that can impact Scotland’s health and care sectors, leading to economic growth by the creation of new jobs specific to those with digital skills. The technology being developed need experts with digital skills. Scotland’s universities are rich in medicine and technology studies and through these universities Scotland is creating digital technologists who can help Scotland’s economic growth and place Scotland as the leader in digital health innovation.

DHI funds Masters courses specifically related to digital health and care skills every year. Those students work closely with us in the development of exciting propositions and learning the skill of innovation and creativity through patient centred design.

We are also in the process of starting to work with colleges and skill development agencies to support understanding and awareness as well as learning on what the next generation of health and care devices will look like. All agencies and bodies related need to get involved in promoting high-value skill development and very importantly vocational skill development, enhancing care and engagement with our vulnerable and most needy citizens.

Which new technology excites you the most?

I am a technology geek and love technology. From a personal perspective I have a MacBook Air and a Microsoft pro, an iPhone, iPad and we have all manner of techie stuff at home.  I am immensely excited about the potential of digital health and care technologies, ranging from body sensor networks, digital medicine, biometrical monitoring all the way through to technologies that will enable us to create a hospital environment in the home.

Technology has the power to transform models of care and empower people to make better choices for their own quality of life and enabling people to stay closer to families and in their own homes rather than have to leave their homes and live somewhere that they’d rather not be. It has the power to keep people healthy, well and happy - that’s pretty amazing.

What's your favourite app and why?

AliveCor because it saves lives. AliveCor is a mobile ECG device that is connected to your smart device. It is powered by theAliveECG app that runs smartphone or tablet. AliveCor records accurate ECGs and heart rate anywhere at any time. AliveCorallows you to track medications, symptoms such as palpitations and shortness of breath, habits like caffeine or alcohol consumption, and activities like exercise or sleep, helping you get an understanding of your health profile.

The data can be sent to your doctor to quickly analyse any potential problems. The device can help those who suffer from a heart defect or problem, track their EGC giving back by helping you take control of your heart health.

The device is easy to use: you simply open the app on your smart device and rest the AliveCor ECG device on your fingers or chest to record an ECG in just 30 seconds, and straight away know when your ECG is normal and if atrial fibrillation is detected.

Currently, AliveCor is being tested at 25 GP surgeries and with 5,000 patients and has great potential to save lives by tracking heart problems and atrial fibrillation before potential fatality may happen.

What, for you, will 2016 be the year of from a technology/digital standpoint?

From a DHI perspective, we are aiming to create a new infrastructure that will support the radical transformation on how we provide the ability to rapidly prototype technology in partnership with businesses, the NHS and social care teams in Scotland and our academic partners.

We will make it increasingly easier to innovate in health in Scotland and to use the excellent test beds our nation offers to the innovation community.

We will start to see the true emergence of the digital health and care market place in Scotland led by our companies and health and care professionals who will begin to take their rightful place as leaders within Europe and beyond in this exciting emerging market, and I am very lucky to be involved in leading and supporting that amazing opportunity that will benefit the people of Scotland using these products and services first. The adoption and spread of these benefits will start in 2016. 

Written by Alan Robertson on 21 October 2015 in Feature for Holyrood Magazine.

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