London: Doctor, Who?

Sean O’Connor

The healthcare sector is in flux, and the UK serves as a clear example of the challenges that face the public and private sectors. Our shared mission is simple and universal: to help people live full and rich lives, to mitigate preventable illness and suffering and to create a healthier, happier society.

The solutions, however, are complex and multi-faceted. Innovation from across the industry is transforming the dynamic between patients, physicians, hospitals, insurers and pharmaceutical companies. With countless sources of information online, wearables to track, apps to diagnose, and a multitude of disruptive services emerging, patients are becoming increasingly empowered to manage their own health experiences and outcomes.

The catch is that this information comes from every source imaginable. Who should they trust? And what’s the role that each should play in the journey to wellness?


To tackle some of these complex issues, Smart Design convened a panel comprised of some of the most innovative minds in the healthcare sector, including:

  • Roger Donald, Head of Transformation for NHS Choices
  • Michelle Hawkins, Head of Futures for Virgin Care
  • Phil Golz, Commercial Director for Health Unlocked
  • Marianne Guldbrandsen, Head of Innovation at MacMillan Cancer Care
  • Robert Allen, Senior Director of AstraZeneca’s Digital Innovation Group

 This diverse, multi-disciplinary panel shared their own insights from all corners of the sector, and the group established some key themes which point toward the future of healthcare:

We live in an era of public sector cuts and austerity measures. This has led to pressure on the public health system to reign in services. Any measures which ease the burden on the healthcare system are to be welcomed in this context. The advent of inexpensive biometric devices, cloud-based computing and access to limitless information on every smartphone could point to a future where patients have the tools to start managing their own health and reduce reliance upon the traditional healthcare structure.

This is not to say that the existing position of healthcare professionals should become less important. These same tools will allow them to offer their patients more information, support and services. Of course, ‘more’ doesn’t necessarily equate to ‘better’, and face-to-face contact will continue to be a critical part of the healthcare equation for the foreseeable future. In the best case, patients will be offered specific tools appropriate for their condition and circumstances. This will provide them with the information and support they need while avoiding the very real danger of information overload, which will lead to confusion and may influence poor decisions.

One condition which could benefit from this multi-channel approach is diabetes. As a society in which the NHS spends around 10% of its annual budget[1]on diabetes, the potential rewards for preventing and managing such a condition could be transformative. Here, there is a clear opportunity for design to make a difference. Digital technology and data can be made meaningful if the user experience helps people to take the appropriate steps when dealing with acute situations. This is even more impactful when the UX enables people to make better choices by modifying their behaviour to prevent or manage chronic conditions, such as diabetes. Like most chronic conditions, it doesn’t begin at the moment of diagnosis. It actually begins months – often years – beforehand. Further, for practitioners, it allows them to understand more precisely what is happening to their patients. When this information is organized in a precise manner, it allows them to provide the best possible care.

All too often, an industry points towards a ‘silver bullet’ which will fix all its ills. The panel at Smart Design’s Healthcare Salon wasn’t convinced this exists in healthcare. Health may be too complex and nuanced for just one individual or organisation to adequately meet all of patient’s needs.

While contemporary medicine, including the NHS, is generally excellent at providing care for acute conditions, this can be a relatively small part of a person’s entire health care experience. Chronic conditions are another situation altogether. This is where innovative new services combined with clinical treatments can make the greatest difference to patients’ lives. A key component of this is supporting a patient through the emotional journey they experience when dealing with the lifestyle changes required to manage a chronic disease.

The ability to create supportive and informed digital communities provides the reassurance and feedback which many patients require as they come to terms with, and manage, their own health situation. However, this isn’t a replacement for the work of doctors and nurses in a traditional hospital setting. They are complementary services, and there is scope for greater collaboration across all of those with aspirations to be the ‘trusted advisor’ in order to deliver a rounded healthcare experience that is more than the sum of its parts.

The idea of creating a personalised and holistic approach for each patient and delivering the right solution for their needs resonated with panellists from across the sector.

In an ideal scenario, it would be possible to redesign the entire healthcare experience from pre-natal to end of life planning. This would start by considering the fact that patients are people and understanding that their physical, mental and emotional health are intrinsically linked. Ultimately their quality of life is inextricably influenced by their surroundings, the people in their lives and the society in which they live. This has an enormous impact on shaping peoples’ ideas, beliefs and behaviours. Equally importantly, it would consider the providers of healthcare and understand their particular needs and motivations.

Design is the connective tissue that can bring all of these disparate parts together. It has the possibility to create ‘holistic care’ rather than ‘health care’ by bringing together information, science, psychology and medicine.

If one accepts that sole responsibility for a patient’s health is too large and complex a burden for a single healthcare practitioner or organisation, then managing the relationship between the multiple specialists becomes a critical part of a patients’ healthcare journey. A designed approach can help to build a joined-up experience which delivers reassurance, support and the right care at the right time.

There is a growing acceptance that an individual’s health is too great and complex a factor to be adequately served by just one individual or organisation. Public health services, private companies, charities and insurers may all have important parts to play. The challenge is therefore to find a way for these disparate entities to work together to provide the seamless, effective care system which each patient deserves.

Each of the Smart Salon panellists, from across the healthcare spectrum, acknowledged that there were opportunities to do more in this area. The potential rewards for patients are enormous. A healthcare system which can provide holistic care and support, while giving patients a sense of empowerment and reassurance is possible through collaboration.

In Summary: The Way Forward

The healthcare sector is at a crossroads. Traditional structures and roles are facing disruption from technological and societal changes, and it will take the combined efforts the public, private and third sectors; as well as the patients themselves; to ensure that the healthcare system fulfils its potential.

Individual empowerment will be one of the cornerstones of healthcare in the future. With the overwhelming availability of online information, an ability to track health data and access to basic diagnostic tools, patients can already take control of their own health like never before. As this develops, patients will be able to understand and plan their own wellness in a way that works best for themselves. The wealth of information available can already be overwhelming, and it will be up to the healthcare sector to engage patients and help them to filter the information most useful to them on their path to care. The role of an informed, authoritative expert is still enormously important and one that will remain critical in the delivery of healthcare in the foreseeable future.

Those tasked with supporting patients; the healthcare workers themselves; must also be considered in the complex care equation. The doctors, nurses, therapists and aid workers amongst others must have the training, tools and roles which reflect the critical part they plan in the lives of their patients. Part of this is giving healthcare workers the systems they need to deliver high quality care. Many of the back-end legacy systems which underpin the healthcare sector are outdated, complex and unfit for purpose. These issues must be resolved in order to deliver the human impacts of the healthcare system of the future.

So while there is no silver bullet, it will indeed be possible to overcome the challenges that face the healthcare sector. One day, with collaboration and innovation, we will design and deliver a better future where patients will no longer ask the question “Dr. Who?”.


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[1] Diabetes UK statistics, 2015