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Chaloner Chute


3rd December 2021


Developing the DHI Exchange

In early 2018, DHI embarked on an experiment. As an Innovation Centre we had previously focused our efforts on helping a wide array of digital projects and products, and saw endless pilots show promise but rarely lead to any substantive service transformation. Taking the learning from our first four years, as well as looking at best practice from leading digital public service approaches worldwide, we decided instead to start addressing some of the systemic issues that stopped digital health and care services scaling.

We decided to try to address three main needs through a new approach to innovation, these were:

  1. Develop a model that was centred on citizens, not organisations. Maintaining this focus through discovery, design, and development as well as in the way in which infrastructure was developed. This had to ensure that co-management with the citizen was a fundamental, unavoidable feature of the ecosystem.
  2. Developing and providing person-centred identity and data sharing infrastructure to allow citizens to connect digital health and care products and services to each other and existing health and care systems.
  3. Create immersive learning environments and demonstrations to help people understand the ‘art of the possible’ and use this to inform the design, development and commissioning of integrated, person-centred digital health and care services.

We developed a method to move from co-design stages into a ‘learn by doing’ method we called ‘simulation’. This involved developing digital products that met user requirements, integrating these products with each other and with health and care systems and then using fake (simulated) data sets to demonstrate the new, integrated digital services in action.

We set up a physical Demonstration Environment to showcase these developments and provoke visitors to think differently about what service models were now possible. We also set up a virtual Simulation Environment. This provided technical sandboxes where developers could access the data-sharing infrastructure, allowing others to develop their own demonstrators.

Our initial design and simulation projects focused on Hypertension and Frailty. A report on the methods and outputs can be found here. These simulations (alongside broader co-design and market research) were demonstrated in an immersive Demonstration Environment based at the University of Strathclyde. Over the first year, DHI ran weekly demonstration sessions, with over a thousand people attending from health and care services, industry, academia, and members of the public.

Then the Covid-19 pandemic struck and DHI had to pivot quickly to support the NHS in developing the digital tools for the Scottish Test and Protect system. The methods and infrastructure used in our early simulation exercises had laid the groundwork to discover, design, integrate and deploy the necessary systems to quickly help Scotland in the pandemic.

While this has been a great success for our innovation model, it has come at the cost of our broader innovation role. It proved impossible to deliver live services under that pressure alongside considering future horizons and keeping our doors open to the wider innovation community. The pandemic also meant that our physical environment had to be closed to support social distancing requirements.

Following this eighteen-month hiatus, DHI is now relaunching our innovation method, now re-branded the DHI Exchange. We have provided a landing page on our website for people to come and hear about what we do. They can register interest in visiting our Demonstration Environment or access the developer sandboxes (our Simulation Environment).

We have kept some limited simulation activity going during the pandemic – chiefly around cancer, weight management and digital identity. Watch this space and we will publish some online demonstration content soon. Hopefully, we will be able to showcase these simulations in our Demonstration Environments during 2022 and look forward to seeing you there.

Blog by: Chal Chute  Chief Technology Officer

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