Digital is the best medicine for our healthcare system

‘Digital technologies will fundamentally transform healthcare over the next decade‘ says Martin Curley, Director of Digital Transformation and Open Innovation, the Health Service Executive

13th October, 2020
Digital is the best medicine for our healthcare system

What's your name and what position do you hold?

Martin Curley, Director of Digital Transformation and Open Innovation, the Health Service Executive

What are your day to day responsibilities?

I am responsible for catalysing and driving the digital transformation of Irish health services. I and my team work with the digital health ecosystem to orchestrate, steward and drive the ecosystem to co-deliver digital solutions which deliver transformational outcomes for patients, clinicians and the overall health system. We manage a portfolio of over 50 promising digital health solutions which we try to accelerate through an innovation pipeline to broad adoption.

What is your professional background?

I am an electronic engineer by background and have worked for several multinationals (Philips, GE, Intel, Mastercard) in a variety of engineering and executive positions with a focus on IT, innovation and digital leadership. I previously was VP and Head of Intel Labs Europe while immediately prior to joining the HSE I was an SVP at Mastercard leading the global Digital Practice.

How do you think the healthcare sector is coping with the Covid-19 crisis?

The whole healthcare system has been stressed by the Covid-19 crisis. But the pandemic has acted as a ‘big bang’ disruptor for digital solutions. At the HSE we have dramatically scaled up the number of digital solutions we are exploring and driving to adoption. Examples include a solution for remote management of patients, the use of digital infrared thermometers and of course, a range of video consultation tools. I am an advocate of the digital health passport and digital rapid antigen testing technologies. I think the combination of these two technologies can help slow the spread of Covid-19 while also acting as an enabler of society and the economy to operate better while we await a vaccine.

What lasting impact do you see on healthcare delivery?

Healthcare will be fundamentally transformed by Digital technologies. We will see 10x improvements in capability and/or 10x improvements in cost reduction. Covid-19 has dramatically lowered the barrier for digital technology adoption – necessity is the mother of invention. At the HSE, in conjunction with many partners we have created a network of living labs across Ireland to help co-create and test new digital health solutions, very often with patients and citizens involved. The result should be accelerated adoption of digital solutions with better outcomes for patients and lower costs.

How do you see tech innovation transforming healthcare? What do you think will be the major breakthroughs over the next 5–10 years?

Digital technologies will fundamentally transform healthcare over the next decade. On average healthcare is about a decade behind many other industries in digitalising. For example, this quote from entrepreneur, investor and technologist Vinod Khosla that “in the next decade data science will do more for medicine than all of the biological sciences combined” is just one manifestation of the digital revolution that is waiting to happen in healthcare. Some breakthroughs will occur through the re-application in healthcare of technologies that are commonplace in other industries. For example, in Ireland a key need is to have vital signs automation (VSA) in hospital wards. This will eliminate scribing and calculation errors around national early warning scores (NEWS) which are used to check if a patient is deteriorating or not and can allow earlier intervention when a deterioration is noticed, saving lives and reducing average length of stay. Cavan hospital will be our national demonstrator to create the showcase and business case for national adoption of VSA. Remote monitoring of patients will be common place and we are in the process of creating a 500 strong virtual ward of patients with long term respiratory diseases, all of who can be monitored from home.

What do you think are the key challenges are in the digital transformation of the health service?

Healthcare systems are designed to limit variability so thus by design are not built to enable adoption of innovations or digital solutions. Notwithstanding this the biggest barrier to the adoption of digital solutions is culture. Peter Drucker said “Culture eats strategy for breakfast”. However, if you can present new digital solutions which offer a 10x improvement in capability and/or 10x improvement in cost, the barriers to adoption go down. It is all about mind-set. The way to achieve digital transformation is through creating a movement and we are try to create this in the HSE and broader ecosystem. Creating a compelling vision that staff, ecosystem fellow travellers and patients buy into with their hearts, rather than comply with is a great starting point. This needs to be followed with quick wins which demonstrate significant positive change.

The challenge and opportunity are well summarized by Eric Topol, renowned cardiologist when he says “While medicine is remarkably resistant to change, the ability to digitise any individual’s biology, physiology and anatomy, along with other elements will undoubtedly transform the future of medicine”.

What will be the leading trends in healthcare in the coming years and how will patients and providers need to adapt?

Eric Topol has written about Schumpeter’s ‘creative destruction of medicine’ while Kurzweil’s Law of accelerating returns argues that we will see accelerating exponential change as each new level of change creates a platform for further, faster change. We are beginning to see the opportunity for exponential change in digital healthcare so there will be many breakthroughs. The shift from reactive healthcare to proactive healthcare and wellness management will be a pivotal trend. Then healthcare will be submitted to waves of change first through better digitisation and management of vital signs and disease markers followed by significant breakthroughs enabled by data science. Healthcare providers should be able to look forward to better efficiency, effectiveness and delivering better experiences. We, as citizens and patients can hopefully look forward to longer, better and stronger lives directly enabled by digital technologies.

Martin Curley is speaking at The Business Post’s inaugural Smart Health Summit on Oct 22nd.

Visit for details.

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