Digitization within healthcare

By Daniel Barlow, Head of Innovation Policy


Tell us a bit about yourself and what your role entails.

“In my role as Head of Innovation Policy at BSI, I talk to government, agencies, and innovators, about how standards can support innovation - whether that’s for a product, governance, strategy, or policy. Standards are valuable because they bring best practice and enable trust, but it’s not just about using standards – there is real benefit in developing them. Building consensus with regulators, customers, suppliers, partners and competitors, is a collaborative effort to bring economic, societal and environmental benefit.

Before BSI, I was at the Department of International Trade looking at aerospace trade strategy, with a focus on innovation; and before that I was at Rolls Royce in digital manufacturing. It was a great base for what I do now - I was working out how to embed digital tools on the shop floor and create a “digital-first culture”. Digital tools are actually reasonably straight forwards, making sure they work for people and processes is hard.”

What current projects is BSI working on and in what ways do they support healthcare?

Personally, I’m very involved with a project called “Our 2050 World” which is an international collaboration with ISO (International Organization for Standardization) and the UN-backed (United Nations) Race to Zero campaign. We are accelerating the support for non-state actors, like hospitals and medical facilities, to cut their emissions. Our work includes signposting to existing standards, aligning standards (existing and new) to climate science, and supporting the systematic change required to limit warming to 1.5C.

Essentially, we’re looking at the actions we need to take in this decade so that our 2050 world is one that humans can live in - and that includes supporting the healthcare sector.”

What role does BSI play in healthcare within the UK?

“Historically, BSI have worked a lot with standards that support medical device regulation. Generally, different countries around the world have their own regulations for medical devices which manufacturers will have to meet to place their products on the market. 

If we take medical devices as one example, regulations will tell you what you have to achieve in terms of safety and performance, but where we come in - through application of standards – is to provide a way of setting out to meet those regulations. It becomes the standardised way that manufacturers across the world use to place devices on the market and that regulators recognise.

Interestingly, standards can be used to demonstrate conformity of the regulations. In Europe you have a system where following particular clauses of a harmonized standard means that you can demonstrate “presumption of conformity” with the regulations. That becomes a really powerful tool for manufacturers because the regulatory principles may be similar in each country. So, by following global international standards for medical devices, you can therefore meet a number of the essential requirements across many jurisdictions. And it means that every time you place a product on the market in a new territory, you don't have to start from scratch. It doesn’t stop at medical devices, of course, but that’s one example of how we interact with the healthcare sector in the UK.”

What do you think the biggest barriers to implementing technological change are?

“Implementing technological change is foremost about people and purpose. I think of systems as people, processes and tools. Start with people because they are always at the heart. After that, work out what the real processes are and what they are there to achieve. Finally, start to think about the tool that supports the people and the process. In manufacturing, we’d often use SIPOC (supplier, input, process, output, customer – drawn out as a process flow / map) to think about as-is and to-be systems and I think that’s definitely something that we can apply within the NHS.

Another important thing that I think really blocks the digital transformation in an organisation is the underuse or misuse of existing tools. If people don’t know how to use common digital tools like MS Teams or OneDrive effectively, then it can be really difficult for an organisation to use more specialist platforms to transform. Some organisations that talk about being digital, have just dropped new software on to their teams and processes. Whilst this pushes people into a digital domain (computer, phone, tablet), if they don’t embrace the speed and heavy lifting that digital tools offer, advantage is limited and worse it could stifle further change.

And finally, I think that building a digital appetite is really important. Leaders can react to technical/digital debt by looking for expensive, new systems or big upgrades and expect everything to transform overnight. Most organisations can make sizeable improvements and help the organisation to embrace digital change by starting small. It’s really important to build a digital appetite by showing people that digital tech and data is there to help them, and then let them pull the transformation that they need.”

What do you think about digitisation within healthcare?

“Based on the insights that I’ve gotten over the years from manufacturing and talking to medics, I think that there are huge opportunities in learning from the digital transformation that has taken place in factories over the last two decades. Digital transformation which builds on and supports methodologies like Six-Sigma (reducing variation) and Lean (which reduces “waste”) have been incredibly effective. Many of these concepts can map across as-is, and even enable healthcare professionals to factor in patient specifics and human-needs. There’s no reason why you couldn’t look to adopt a similar pathway or approach in healthcare.

We should be focused on making the lives of people who work in healthcare easier; give them the right tools to get things done in the way they want to work. You can lose people when you move onto the more complicated things, so you need to be purposeful with transformation and bring people with you by keeping them engaged.”