By David Docherty, Strategic Adviser

How should we educate doctors, nurses, care workers and life scientist for the healthcare revolution currently gathering like a giant thunderhead cloud?

Paul Sonnier, who convenes the largest digital health network on LinkedIn, defines this as: the convergence of the digital and genomic revolutions with health, healthcare, living and society. Pause for a second and reflect on the enormity of this for ageing, growing, leisure, business, science and cultural policy, social justice and welfare, government interventions, public health and care funding, ethics, Artificial Intelligence, and development economics. And then think about the traditional ways in which we still teach health and care and why it’s open to disruption.

In The Human Factor, the NCUB’s Task Force report on digital health and care, we identified good UK practice in continuous professional education for digital health, including the Executive Masters in Medical Leaderships at Cass Business School, health systems at Strathclyde University, and short courses at the Farr Institute for Health Informatics, as well as the NHS’s own Digital Academy. But surely, revolutionary times call for revolutionary changes in the fundamentals of how higher and further education develops the next generation, and retrains the current cohorts of health and care workers?

In the US, for example, Ohio Case Western University is teaming up with the Cleveland Clinic to launch a Health Education Campus in the summer of 2019. This will integrate interprofessional teaching for medical, nursing, dentistry, and ancillary health workers. They note, wisely, that one of the benefits will be to ‘learn with – and from – each other.’ And vitally, this training will integrate digital health breakthrough technologies, like Microsoft’s Hololens mixed reality platform.

This augmented reality technique is slowly penetrating UK campuses and medical schools, and UK companies are developing similar platforms. Medical Realities, a Soho-based start-up, offers high-quality surgical education using virtual reality. It’s co-founder, Professor Shafi Ahmed, has pioneered the use of Snapchat Spectacles and Google Glass, to do live recording for training purposes.

These early pioneers are convinced that medical and care education must be transformed using social media platforms, AI, VR, haptic interactivity, data richness, harvesting, and analytics. And the UK government is backing such transformations with significant funding for innovation. It will invest £181m to improve access to medicine and digital health care. But success will rely on receptive and knowledgeable practitioners, scientists, designers, software developers and ethicists. This is a scale problem. The UK has 106,000 doctors, 286,000 nurses and health visitors, 22,000 midwives, 133,000 scientific, technological and therapeutic staff. And if Sonnier is right, then we should include 482,000 life science employees and 1.5m social workers.

Scale problems need scale solutions. But employers, government, and higher educators must start somewhere. Let’s at least make sure the next generation are trained to be digital.


Published: 5 November 2018