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Adopting new Medical Technology - Does the early bird catch the worm or does the second mouse always get the cheese?

The world is full of homespun philosophies - most of which bear some relation to an underlying truth. But the ones above, that relate to adoption of innovation may well play a critical role in defining whether the NHS can remain the equitable and comprehensive service we all love, free at the point of delivery...

A strange claim I know, but the ability of our much-loved health and care service to adopt the new emerging medical and digital technology, at pace and scale, may be its most critical success factor, if it is to survive and thrive.

However, diagnosing this fact alone, as many experts do, will not help the service to succeed, unless we examine the practicalities of adopting innovative practice and product. The key thing is that the NHS could be a fertile bed for innovation. It has scale, it has a core shared purpose, it has a clear set of rules by which to engage, a single regulatory and inspection system, and in theory, at least, is a single organisation. It should be the best in the world at this....yet as many CEOs of MedTech companies will testify, it is anything but...

So what are the steps to move us forward. The first is to tackle the mindsets of the two sectors. And to analyse my truisms..., so...does the NHS leadership community (clinical or managerial) have enough courage and foresight to be the first ‘provers of concept’? And does the MedTech industry offer attractive enough deals to these early movers to make the risk and effort of change worthwhile?

But more than this, once we have our proof of concept, does the NHS leadership community have the wisdom and insight to quickly become my ‘second mice’, in other words those that can pick up all the benefits of the proof of concept without the pain of the early trial? This may be even more crucial in terms of the leadership mindset, because it is at this stage that the NHS and its patients could get the quickest and widest benefit.

Adoption of new proven technologies is one of the most sensible, lowest risk strategies that the NHS could take up, if it could find the wherewithal to do so. So here are my eight rules for NHS and MedTech leaders as to how we might get better at this:

  • Have an open and inquiring mind, even when under pressure
  • Stretch your horizon from just the short-term, to a medium to long-term perspective - for the NHS leaders, this time frame allows you to take wiser decisions and for the MedTech leaders - sometimes adoption happens just at the point you are about to give up
  • Engage better with your Non Executives and wider staff groups - more and differing eyes and views give you a wider field of vision for spotting the opportunities of new approaches
  • Get out more... Conferences and seminars may look like a luxurious use of time when you’re under the cosh, but actually they may just give the you the ideas that solve your problems
  • Be generous with your time and perspective - find the time to meet with colleagues in other sectors and places to understand their offer and their journey
  • Structure and negotiate a good commercial offer that shares risks and benefits at this stage of adoption
  • Bring the people that do the work to the meeting, so that you can get a greater feel for how the technology would impact and benefit both staff and patients - by doing so you will avoid change feeling imposed and not owned
  • Don’t be worried if you’re not going to be the HSJ Award winner, you can still win all the prizes associated with the new service.

As the costs of health and care rise worldwide, public sector and commercial leaders are searching for ways to increase the productivity within their systems and to try and improve the value they get from every unit of currency they spend. They might do well, however, to assess the way in which they are embracing and adopting the latest developments in medical technology, whether first or second movers.

They would certainly do well to attend the ABHI UK Market conference on the 13th June...