Delighted to introduce you to our first community blogger Catherine Heath. Read on for Catherine's write up of the event...
The evening began with a definition of health tech - useful as this was a careers-focused event. Unsurprisingly, the term 'health tech’ meant different things to different people, but perhaps the most comprehensive definition that surfaced was the many technologies available to us that support our health objectives.
The Speakers and their Definitions of Health Tech
The speakers on the panel were an impressive bunch and came from a variety of backgrounds that include an academic department, a tech startup and even a top consulting firm. Mark Bartlett, from an entrepreneurial background and now working for the NHS in health tech, suggested the term health tech refers to any technologies we can use to improve our health. In contrast, Debbie Paterson, working in healthcare innovation design, suggests that tech should support the design rather than being the focal point.
Bobby Dhaliwel, who works in analytical environments, states that wearable tech is exciting because of its possibilities for helping hospital patients to manage their conditions more independently. UCL PhD student David Crane, in contrast, focuses on the prevention of disease by using mobile apps outside of a clinical setting in order to limit alcohol consumption and other destructive behaviours. Sheridan Ash, director at Price Waterhouse Cooper with a history in fashion modelling as well as pharmaceuticals, argues that we need to use technology to solve our problems.
Overcoming the Difficulties
David argues that our vision should be to aim for better communication between data scientists and marketers, thus enabling improvements in the use of customer insights across the board. We need to avoid a Big Brother-style scenario and steer away from health apps that become overly controlling, but equally we also need to be aware of security issues surrounding patient data. Sheridan pointed out that, contrary to popular opinion, technological systems are far more secure than paper ones, and that new technology Blockchain has the ability to provide high-encryption systems for patient data.
An attendee pointed out how, in a ‘real life’ setting, given the difficulties in getting patients to follow a medical program prescribed by a doctor and take their pills, it’s no more likely they will listen to instructions from an app. David argues that we need to reward users for using apps by showing them the benefit of completing an action, such as showing them what they will gain in the long-run if they drink less alcohol.
The Possibilities of Health Technology
Another attendee pointed out how, in a global market, technologies such as apps are less relevant to individuals in developing countries, many of whom may not own a smartphone. This raised an interesting discussion about the importance of knowing your audience, and the conclusion that poorer countries, because they lack the somewhat cumbersome infrastructure of health systems in developed nations, may have an advantage in the area of health tech as they are more able to implement new initiatives more quickly and easily.
The NHS in particular is notoriously slow in its uptake of technology, partly due to the aforementioned concerns about security in regards to patient data and also the NHS's historical infrastructure. However, new tech initiatives are being launched slowly but surely, Sheridan tells us, and she cites examples such as the creation of digital roadmaps for patient journeys. She also highlights the NHS's aim to be completely paperless by 2020. Mark reminds us of his work on an app called Doctor Doctor, which is being used to help more patients to attend their appointments and reduce cancellations.
Women in Tech
Sheridan brought the discussion round to reason we were all there - the serious lack of women in the health tech industry. The large number of women in the room was nevertheless an encouraging sign.
While there is often an equal intake of genders at entry level, statistics show that women are far less represented at senior levels in tech. One possible suggestion for this trend was the tendency for women not to return after maternity leave, perhaps due to the unfavourable culture in the working world for women trying to balance their careers with motherhood.
And, of course, our ethos here at Code First: Girls is to encourage and help more women to enter tech and entrepreneurship roles. The pleas for job applicants came thick and fast from many of the speakers, as well as co-hosts DigitasLBi, Digital Innovation Group, and Healthtech Women. Sheridan promoted an exciting Women in Technology initiative at Pricewaterhouse Cooper that she has pioneered, which seeks to employ more women at the firm in tech roles.
The Changing Roles of Doctor and Patient
The final and most interesting discussion was how tech will influence the roles of doctor and patient, which have already changed in recent times. For example, many patients now search online for answers to their health questions, and bring their research along to doctor’s appointments. An audience member asked whether complex machines may one day supplant the role of the clinician entirely, to which Mark responded that this was unlikely. Technology can never replace the educated professional.
David raised the interesting point that we are at a stage in society now where we have vast amounts of information at our fingertips and yet most have not developed the ability to discern between the credibility of sources. This means that some websites - NHS Direct, for example - are much more reliable sources of medical expertise than others. However, he also argues that the more serious the health issue is, the more likely a patient will be to take the advice of a team of clinicians over their own online research.
Career Advice from the Speakers
Finally, all panellists provided some advice for people setting out in their health tech career.
Mark: Make sure you expand your options, take available opportunities and attend as many events as you can like Hack your career in health tech!
Debbie: Don’t limit yourself by staying in one field but work in many different areas to gain experience. You don’t need a ten-year career plan.
Sheridan: Women are needed in the tech industries, so know your value - and watch this space!
Bobby: Make sure you get cross-industry experience, get a LinkedIn Premium account and email people in the industry to ask for advice.
Dave: There’s no shortage of jobs, especially in UX and coding. Go for it!
Code First: Girls