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Unravelling the complexity in innovation

6 August 2018

With medical, technological and scientific discoveries advancing at speed, and with big data – which we know ‘saves lives’ – accumulating as never before, what are the challenges in applying all this to driving innovation to transform our  health and care systems? Biochemistry undergraduate Sophie Elvidge shares her reflections and insights after spending a year’s placement working hard at Leeds Academic Health Partnership.

As I complete my industrial placement at the Leeds Academic Health Partnership (LAHP), I have been reflecting on my experience and the things that I have learned before starting my final year of biochemistry at the University of Leeds in September.

From my experience during my first two years at university, I knew that I didn’t want to be in a lab for my placement year but still within health and care as I wanted to be part of a sector that makes a positive impact every day. The LAHP is a collaboration of eight core partner organisations — three Leeds universities, three NHS trusts, NHS Leeds Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) and Leeds City Council, with the Yorkshire and Humber Academic Health Science Network (AHSN) an associate member. I have been applying and developing my undergraduate analytical and problem-solving skills in very different and exciting ways.

My work at the LAHP has included supporting one of its core projects – the Leeds Centre for Personalised Medicine and Health (LCPMH).  This has given me an exciting insight into the opportunities for healthcare to be tailored to individuals, meaning better outcomes for them and a more efficient approach for the health and care system.

As a biochemistry student at a research intensive university, my views of the health and care system have previously been highly focused on the research and discovery side of healthcare innovation. I understood that these new ways to prevent, diagnose and treat disease would need to be introduced into the healthcare system, but I never realised how complex it really was.

My understanding of the health and care system overall has now expanded and shifted. I have been able to see first-hand the challenges faced both when articulating the needs of the system and when introducing new ideas within it. Whilst I quickly learnt that the health and care system in Leeds was comparatively simple with great connectivity and simplicity at scale, I thought this would also mean that the implementation of innovation would be easy. However, this is unfortunately not the case, and I also learnt that it is not an exclusive, local issue.

The challenges to innovation the health and care system faces go beyond dealing with the clinical complexity of what many patients need. There is an elaborate combination of an ageing population, innovation that is costly in time and money, and a culture that isn’t designed to prioritise or easily implement it. We must build the sociotechnical infrastructure needed for innovation to thrive by simultaneously driving cultural and behaviour change so that healthcare innovations can be adopted faster and more systematically into an environment that is more receptive and ready for change and improvement.

At present, innovation is more commonly “pushed” into the health and care sector by innovators with technological and scientific developments. However this method has often stalled because on the one hand the innovation may not be what is actually needed and on the other, navigating the system is complicated for innovators and takes too long.

Furthermore, innovators typically work in silos focussed on niche areas. This can lead to missed opportunities for collaborative discoveries and instead produce new technology that may not be best suited to the gaps in the system. Yet new research and innovations are moving faster than they can be implemented.

This all highlights the growing need for the health and care system to work better together with innovators to overcome these challenges. In other words, “innovation through collaboration”, the LAHP’s strapline.

By collaborating with the health and care sector to address real need, an innovator’s work can be better aligned which can in turn increase the success of their innovation and the chance of its adoption and impact.

Additionally, the health and care system nationally is complex and intricate, commissioned by almost 200 bodies, controlling more than £100 billion, working with 233 organisations which provide care to almost 55 million people with a broad range of diverse local needs and challenges. It is no wonder that innovators find it increasingly difficult to understand! Again, the need for a collaborative culture stands out.

The LAHP is working to break down these barriers between health and care organisations, academic research and industry innovation. By doing this the LAHP aims to create the culture needed which prioritises and facilitates the adoption and spread of innovation.

As I have come to better understand the challenges Leeds faces to create a culture of innovation, I have developed a great appreciation for all it has achieved and still aims to accomplish. I have loved the time I have spent with the LAHP team and now know that I would like to remain a part of this huge transformation that is occurring within the healthcare sector.

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