HealthTech: Meeting the Challenges of Tomorrow, Today


Something I have heard, and said, in equal measure since we entered a global pandemic, is how it has become increasingly hard to date various social or professional events. What was in fact over two years ago, feels like yesterday, whereas a day that we had yet to even hear of a bubble or a variant, feels like quite simply a different lifetime.  

As we head towards the upcoming Scotsman Life Sciences Conference and we are somehow into the end of 2021, that conundrum enters my mind once more. It seems just yesterday that an impressive cast list of speakers were delivering virtual sessions for this flagship event. However, somehow that event was now 12 months ago. It was against the backdrop of the prospect of a winter of staying at home whilst rumours were only just beginning to surface of impending approvals for the various COVID-19 vaccines.   

Whilst the pandemic is by no means over, this week we have just heard the news that the Edinburgh Hogmanay festivities will return as we look to welcome in the new year. The fact we are now onto booster injections of those, once rumoured, vaccines, feels quite miraculous in just twelve months. With that, policy focus seems to have now shifted away from how we get through, or come out of the pandemic, and towards how we attempt to tackle the growing backlog of waiting lists and help support the recovery of health and care systems worldwide.

There are very few individuals out there who think the next year will be simpler than the last, in large part, because of two interlinked challenges that have the potential to be contradictory or complimentary. However, as the challenges mount, the role of technology seems to be closer to the fore than ever. 

The first of these challenges will be one we will face for some time, the growing waiting list and how a system that is still dealing with the front face of the pandemic, can even begin to tackle the size of the backlog that we now have. The causes and symptoms of this have been well rehearsed, however whilst all agree reducing waiting lists is essential for both patient care and the efficient running of the Scottish NHS, how to achieve that remains a debate. There are particular pinch points, diagnostic capacity and workforce to name two, that will exasperate the issues in the system, however, technology does offer some solutions. Throughout the pandemic, the models used to deliver care were changed, and some, such as the use of telemedicine, point of care diagnostics and remote monitoring, offer real solutions, where appropriate, to increase the level of activity without requiring a consequent increase in other finite resources. The development of mechanisms to increase the adoption of these forms of technology within Scotland are well underway and could make a real difference once implemented. 

These technologies can equally support the second challenge I want to note, the sustainable delivery of healthcare. It would be remis of me not to mention the transition to Net Zero, and we are just a week away from, what many pundits are calling, the biggest climate conference of our time, COP26 (although answers on a postcard as to how many conferences have already and will use that line). Whilst it seems counter intuitive to suggest an increase in activity can support a reduction in carbon emissions, as ever, it is how that activity is delivered that will have the impact. Though there is a very real and pressing need for all suppliers to consider, and where possible reduce, the carbon impact their technologies will have, the strategic view of the solution their technologies can offer is something that must be grasped if we are to tackle the biggest emergency of our time.

As we enter another Scotsman Life Science conference, I remain hopeful hope that at the next one, in another year’s time, we will again be reflecting on the progress that has been made and how technology has been able to support the task of facing both of these challenges concurrently. Whilst we may not have solved them in a year, we will have taken the opportunity to seize the time that continues to pass us by, and maximise the role that HealthTech can play. If only simply because the circumstances we face require it. 

Eleanor Charsley, Associate Director, External Affairs, ABHI

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