From advanced diagnostic and therapeutic systems, to digital healthcare devices that can help share the burden of an ageing population, the role being played by technology in addressing our most pressing healthcare challenges is at the heart of some of our most inspiring stories. Our latest brace of reports from the frontline of the medical technology sector are no exception.
As our features testify, the development of these technologies present some acute technical challenges, whether it’s the mind-boggling cross-disciplinary work featured in our report on advanced brain-scanning technology or the cutting-edge science behind the latest cancer treatments
But perhaps the biggest challenge of all is ensuring that once a technology has been developed it’s able to fulfil its promise, and navigate its way through the labyrinth of bureaucratic red tape that so frequently seems to hamper the widespread adoption of devices.
As Sally Chisholm, head of technology adoption for the NHS, explains in this issue’s interview hospitals are paid according to their level of activity, so it’s sometimes not in their interests to introduce technology that could, for instance, reduce the need for multiple hospital visits.
“It’s sometimes not in a hospital’s interests to launch technology that could reduce the need for multiple hospital visits”
There are, of course, other less-worrying obstacles to technology adoption. New technology must be subjected to extensive clinical trials, and it would serve no one if our health service was to become a technological free for all.
Nevertheless, it’s worrying to learn that despite growing consensus on the need reduce the burden on hospitals it’s not always in the financial interests of hospitals to embrace the technology that will help achieve this.
Interestingly, despite the heavy criticism aimed at the government’s proposed health reforms, the jury is out on the likely impact of these reforms on technology procurement. Indeed, Chisholm suggests that removing purchasing power from local NHS authorities and placing it in the hands of potentially more flexible GP commissioning groups might help speed up the process of technology adoption. Only time will tell.
The good news is that despite facing a more challenging route to market than many other sectors, the UK’s medical technology industry is in rude health, boasting one of the world’s largest and fastest-growing medical-device markets, and bringing in around £6bn a year.
Building on the success of this key area of the economy should be a major goal for the government. It’s vital for the UK’s physical and material health that everything possible is done to make the road to technology adoption as pain free as can be.