Sunday October 25, 2020

Ireland is home to many innovative health start-ups

‘I am humbled by the commitment shown by our frontline workers who have in many cases sacrificed so much,’ says Clare Harney, Executive Director, Digital Health Transformation, HealthTech Ireland

14th October, 2020

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

Clare Harney, Executive Director, Digital Health Transformation, HealthTech Ireland

What are your day to day responsibilities?

I am responsible for bringing together and representing organisations with an interest in digital health through education, advocacy and influence. This requires encouraging organisations to become involved in the HealthTech Ireland trade association, advocating for the adoption of digital health solutions to positively transform our health service. We also provide access to expert experience and opinion from around the world through our industry Leadership Forum and facilitation of global key opinion leader events for our members.

What is your professional background?

I hold a Masters’ degree in Health Informatics and a Bachelor of Information Systems, which has enabled me to work in health information management in hospitals, standards and governance at HIQA, the Department of Health and the HSE before joining the private sector and leading a high potential Irish digital health company.

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

I am humbled by the commitment shown by our frontline workers who have in many cases sacrificed so much, often putting themselves at risk, to help ensure we as citizens are safely cared for should the need arise. From an industry perspective, we have been experiencing a “digital dawn” with rapid and increased adoption of digital health solutions that have made a huge impact on our ability to support healthcare workers and patients during the Covid-19 crisis. Our industry has responded by providing services, often freely, as we all pull together to help where we can. These new interventions have shown the benefits of digital health adoption in a safe and sustainable way and I think it’s vital that we maintain the momentum in enabling access to new technologies and innovations, building on and scaling what we have achieved so far. They also align well with and support our current health strategy, Sláintecare.

What lasting impact do you see on healthcare delivery?

I hope to see continued recognition of the value and vitality of our healthcare workers. This correlates well with digital health adoption as, over time, new innovations enable health professionals to focus on healthcare delivery, while technology supports their role by performing many administrative and time-consuming tasks. The value of telehealth and further home-based care enabled by digital health has been proven during the pandemic and there are many more applications going forward that will support community health workers and patients in a more comfortable way as we further enable digital health transformation. We have long discussed the need to keep people out of hospital where possible and we have seen how this can be achieved safely during the current crisis. The opportunity is there to grow our capability in this regard, building on our achievements with digital health adoption so far and leveraging technology to deliver safer, better care for all of us.

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

As with many other industries, automation will play a key role in transforming healthcare in the near future. This can be applied to almost any process, freeing up the time of health workers to provide care by removing mundane administrative tasks. It will also lead to faster appointment scheduling, expedited clinical reporting and many other efficiencies. Outside of that, Ireland is home to many innovative health start-ups providing solutions and devices that enable people to stay healthy at home for longer. We will see things like smart bandages for chronic wound care become the norm, dramatically improving the wellbeing of many people. 5G will enable real time connectivity for emergency services with care providers and specialists, with telemetry, HD visual and sound enabling life-saving treatments on route to hospital. There are many more examples, but one of the major enablers to innovation will be in partnerships. Partnerships and collaboration between digital, diagnostic and device companies, working together with the health service and patient representatives to solve issues affecting people’s lives has the potential to truly transform how healthcare is delivered in Ireland.

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

There are many challenges as our health services works to deliver care in the midst of a pandemic with financial constraints and a heavily burdened workforce. We have an ageing population and an increasing incidence of chronic disease to contend with. With these challenges in mind, it can be difficult to see where the funding and resources for digital transformation will come from. Value-based rather than cost-based care and associated appropriate evaluation of digital innovations to ensure we achieve best in class solutions to tackling the challenges we face within current resources. This, together with appropriate regulations can break down barriers to digital adoption and lead to better outcomes, efficiencies and cost savings. A collaborative approach between the public, private, regulatory and industry sectors is necessary to achieving this. Technologically speaking, full adoption of the Individual Health Identifier and an international standards-based National Interoperability Framework are the fundamental building blocks to digital transformation that we must put in place in order to advance significantly on our digital health journey.

HealthTech Ireland is playing a key role through our Leadership Forum, bringing together some of our largest industry operators in digital, diagnostics, devices, pharma and insurance with representatives from the health service with the collaborative goal of supporting our health system in reducing the barriers to adoption of digital health.

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

A leading trend emerging is patient involvement in the management of their own healthcare. People are, in general, becoming more health literate and demand to play an increasing role in how they receive care. Access to our own health records and the ability to share our health information as we see fit is also part of this. Digital transformation of healthcare results in an exponential increase in the generation of health data as we record many health parameters from our homes such as heart rate, blood pressure, blood oxygen levels and much more. Artificial intelligence will be key to analysing all these data such that meaningful information can be communicated to healthcare providers appropriately. Accepting and adapting to this emergence of technology enabled and often passive recording of health status requires a significant cultural shift from the policy level, right through public and private healthcare delivery and supported centrally by the public and private payors for healthcare.

Clare Harney is speaking at the Business Post’s inaugural Smart Health Summit which is being held virtually on Oct 22nd. Visit www.smarthealthsummit.ie for full details.

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