Author: Joanne Hunter, Head of Marketing, Fairfield Group

hospital wrist bandToday, I had the great privilege of attending a Westminster Health Forum where all the top movers and shakers in health care innovation presented, discussed and debated the future of health technologies. Naturally they spoke enthusiastically about the most exciting technological advancements on the horizon for the NHS and not so much about the proven technologies that have been around a while.

I heard about wearable technologies such as hip-chips that detect and communicate when people fall, wearable glucose testing kits enabling diabetics to self-manage their condition and how Airedale NHS Foundation Trust uses video conferencing for patient consultations in prisons, patients’ homes and care homes. An entrepreneur spoke with real passion about how the NHS has to focus their energies on embracing technology NOW instead of trying to preserve the past. (Incidentally he has done just that with his app – Babylon – an online GP service available anytime, anywhere that attracts 30 new downloads every 10 minutes. He didn’t pitch his successful model to us today, I googled it afterwards. All credit to Ali Parser, CEO of Babylon.)

James Freed, Head of Information Strategy for Public Health England spoke about his concerns over the vast pace at which apps of all levels of quality are flooding the health care space and how GPs are prescribing apps as well as medication in their daily surgeries. He aims to put an endorsement programme in place to help clinicians decide which can be relied upon and which cannot. No mean feat.

I heard from Dr Paul Rice, Head of NHS Strategy for NHS England who co-wrote the paper “Personalized Health & Care 2020” which is a framework for action focused on using data and technology to transform health care. The scale of his plight to make the NHS paperless by 2020 cannot be underestimated as he works with the challenges of sustainability, the use of conflicting terminology across Trusts and the legacy of disparate propriety systems entrenched in the system across Trusts that simply cannot be ignored.

As I sat there listening to all of this and more i.e. how medical innovation is regulated (MHRA) and what help is available for health care innovators (Innovate UK) I couldn’t help think about what I call ‘the boring bits’.

The fact that as the Five Year Forward View looks for £22 Billion worth of efficiency savings by 2020 and that Unique Device Identification (UDI) is upon us , patient safety is compromised daily by the absence of a simple bar coded wrist band and that breast milk mother/baby mismatches are a daily occurrence by overworked, overstretched maternity teams.

I guess by the ‘boring bits’ I mean the basics, or the proven technologies that exist today that are ready and waiting to be deployed. In comparison to those really exciting patient-facing technologies on the horizon that dominated today’s agenda.

The ‘boring bits’ like bar coding and RFID that have been around for years and have wide scale adoption in many other sectors, but that somehow in many areas of health care have passed us by. The ‘boring bits’ that are ready and waiting to be deployed today with the help of skills solutions providers promising huge efficiency gains and cost-savings.

I couldn’t help but wonder how much of the £22 Billion in efficiency savings was staring us in the face but the sheer enormity of the big picture in terms of embracing technologies properly in health care settings was blurring common sense and fuelling procrastination.

No matter how hard Dr Paul Rice tries he will never eat the whole elephant in one go. However, every 500 mile journey starts with a single step. In the case of the NHS admittedly cutting edge technology adoption right across the board with its many facets could potentially be described as a 5,000,000 mile journey. I couldn’t begin to argue with that. However, it still must start with a single step and undoubtedly I am sure many steps are being taken on a dialy basis by Dr Rice’s trusted IT teams.

Dr Ali Parsa (CEO of Babylon) told a story at today’s event about a little girl throwing Starfish back into the sea to save them from being fried in the sun. Her small act wouldn’t solve the massive starfish problem that exists in Goa overnight, but she was taking an all important small step. She was breaking an elephant down into sizeable chunks and doing her bit.

So to answer my own question – the heading of this article – ‘are the boring bits really that boring?’ I say no they certainly are not. Not when we look at the potential cost savings and quick efficiency gains that could be achieved by tried and tested technologies that have not been exploited to the full in health care.

For example In the UK, according to the Royal College of Surgeons, it currently takes an average of 8.6 minutes for 2 x highly qualified, well paid clinicians to check one tray set of surgical instruments. This is done once at the beginning of a surgical procedure and twice at the end of the procedure to make sure all instruments are present (i.e. that none are missing or retained inside the patient for example). There is more counting to be done during the sterilisation process too. This is typically managed by a paper-based manual system across the UK and even at our most conservative estimation that labour spent counting surgical instruments costs the NHS in the region of £160 Million per year. The stark reality is that the technology exists to simultaneously read a tray of up to 50 surgical instruments in just 10 seconds using RFID.

This conservative cost saving doesn’t take into account the reduction in litigation costs, insurance costs, the costs of training for theatre nurses and cleaning room staff, fewer operations cancelled due to counting errors and the elimination of human error. Not to mention the enormous social value to patients, clinicians and their teams.

I believe for the powerful people in that room today it is time to take a serious look at the ‘boring bits’ in terms of what technology can do for health care TODAY, in the here and now, in back offices, hospital and community health care processes. They need to do everything in their power to take those small steps as quickly as possible and keep making them, no matter how hard it is.

Enthusiasm marred by frustration rang out loud and clear at today’s event as many admitted that although the technology exists it simply hasn’t yet been evenly distributed across UK health and social care organisations. Also the pertinent point was made that the powerful people in the room today could choose to be a force for good in health care innovation or a force for holding health care back.


Joanne Hunter is Head of Marketing for Fairfield Group – a technology company that has been delivering auto ID solutions since 1982. Fairfield has vast expertise in bar coding, 2D codes, UDI, laser marking and coding, key dots, OCR, verification, vision and code checking etc. and the right partner connections to make any project of this nature a great success. Joanne has been involved in auto ID since 1995 and has a special interest technologies that improve efficiencies for health care markets.

Lucy Clulow, / 01905 794779 /
Also Managing Director of Fairfield :
Mark Lynch, / 01905 794779 /