Reflections on Health Foundry Summit

Over the course of two sunny days in late September, we nervously opened our newly finished workspace at Canterbury House in Waterloo and welcomed over 120 people to take part in an open conversation on transforming health and wellbeing with digital technology.

Our Health Foundry Summit was the culmination of four weeks of events as diverse as a roundtable on data security hosted by the Digital Catapult Centre to a workshop by the Science Gallery inviting a group of young adults from the local community to design potential applications controlled by their mouths.

Keeping in line with our mission to “connect thinking” around technology, health and wellbeing, the Summit brought a diverse audience together to explore topics as far-ranging as machine learning, healthier cities, and cross-sector collaborations.

We’ve extracted five trigger questions from the insights shared by Ian Abbs, Medical Director of Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital Foundation Trust, thought leader Indy Johar and Dr. Alex Szolnoki from Babylon Health, among others.


How do we get new people in the room?

To steal a soundbite from Sir Tim Berner’s Lee, this “digital health stuff” is for everyone. It’s too important to leave to a bunch of techies with bright ideas for startups. At the Summit, we heard from clinicians and carers, nurses and neuroscientists, designers and data scientists, founders and futurists, incubators and accelerators. It will take multiple actors from all walks to life to solve our big healthcare challenges and as an organisation our challenge will be to ensure we get new people in the room.

Vicky-Marie Gibbons from Bethnal Green Ventures shared her experience of working with digital health startups during the nine accelerators they have run. Many of the teams they invested in were founded by people who experienced a problem - and went about trying to solve it.

Founders like Naveed and Samiya Parvez from Andiamo who are revolutionising the way that orthodontics are delivered to disabled children and their families. The company was born out of frustration with the service they received while caring for their son Diamo whose cerebral palsy meant he needed to wear braces. However, with long manufacture times, by the time the braces arrived, Diamo had outgrown them. Naveed and Samiya started as parents who wanted the best for their son, saw an opportunity and are now running a successful startup.

Health charities are also playing a key role in innovation. Kristina Barrick from Breast Cancer Care showcased their app BECCA which aims to give information and advice and support to women post-treatment, Their face-to-face services were only reaching 8.8% of women and so BECCA was designed and developed to reach the other 91.2%.

How can Health Foundry to be a space for anyone with an idea or a sense of curiosity? How can we make the space relevant and welcoming to anyone - not just startups.


How do we take a systems approach to healthcare?

It’s increasingly recognised that health and wellbeing depend on factors beyond fitness or the absence of disease. Different aspects of someone’s life such as housing, employment status and local environment have a huge impact on health. As Michael Wright from Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity so succinctly put it, we want Health Foundry to be a place where we ask what it means to be truly healthy, not just avoiding sickness.

Thought leader Indy Johar took us on a journey of discovery looking at system-change approaches to health and arguing that the lack of investment into preventative health measures is partly due to the fact that current institutions are unable to understand the inter-dependencies of costs. Hence Indy advocated for the need to deploy a much more creative range of financial mechanism in order to invest into the right interventions.  

Finally he left the  Summit audience with a provocation question of whether we are locked into the mindset of “small”, reminding us that someone built the NHS and the Open University and that maybe we need to stop doing incremental, fire-fighting innovation and instead start thinking bigger.


How do we can different actors in the system collaborate?

Our mission at Health Foundry is to provide a space where different actors in the healthcare system - clinicians, technologists, service users - can come together in a neutral space to re-imagine how we deliver healthcare.

This spirit of collaboration was illustrated perfectly by a moving story from David Howells, co-founder along with his son Mark, of Konnektis, a digital platform to encourage better real-time communication and collaboration between carers of older people - be they relatives, friends, professional carers or local volunteers. David and Mark founded the company out of a frustration with the disjointed care system that they experienced when David’s father became ill. Designing Konnektis, they spent months talking to and redesigning the care journey with everyone involved from formal carers to distant family members who want to be involved in their loved one’s care.

Another inspiring story of collaboration was Dr Anju Kulkarni, consultant in the cancer genetics department at Guy’s Regional Genetics Service and Alex Kenney of software company UBQO who co-developed the Cancer Genetics App, a hereditary cancer risk assessment for both clinicians and individuals. After Angelina Jolie revealed in 2013 that she proactively underwent a double mastectomy to reduce her risk of developing cancer, the service was overwhelmed with new enquiries. Dr Kulkarni had an idea for an app that GPs could use to ensure at-risk patients were referred, but not being from a technical background she didn’t know how to develop it further. A chance meeting with Alex from UBQO followed by some funding and support from Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity, meant a partnership was born. 


How do we re-imagine how healthcare is delivered?

In his keynote address, Michael Wright, Head of Health Investment at Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity explained that they conceived and invested in Health Foundry to provide a place where everyone involved in healthcare can rethink how healthcare is delivered. With the NHS funding gap forecast to reach £30 billion in 2020/21, the need for cost-effective healthcare is increasing but combined with rising demand, business as usual is just not an option.

We saw many concrete examples of this new way of thinking at the Summit. Babylon Health a company that are leading in how artificial intelligence can provide an effective triage service for individuals, potentially limiting the number of people that go on to use the health service. Companies like Mindwave Ventures are using technology such as VR to provide effective mental health and addiction interventions. And companies such as Imin, Open Play and Good Gym are using technology to get people active - a major contribution to a person’s long term health.


How do we put people at the heart of digital innovation?

One of the biggest themes that emerged during the Summit was that even though we are talking about digital, it’s people that are key. Tom Whicher from DrDoctor, one of our founding members, explained that their biggest challenge to getting their appointment booking platform adopted in hospitals was not the technology, it was getting people on board. He spoke of the importance of having individuals within the institution to champion the innovation, being in wards and speaking to people every day.

Digital health projects fail because they aren’t taken out and tested with real people. But not so the innovations on our Design in Healthcare panel. All our design panelists were great examples of the need to pretotype (validating that the product is an answer to a real user need) before you even get close to making a prototype. For example, Emilie Glazer from Ctrl Group talked about their Nesta funded project Dementia Citizens where they put the carer of those with dementia at the heart of their design process.


What's next?

Our Summit was never intended to provide all the answers but instead open up a dialogue of how digital technology can transform health and wellbeing.

We want you to be part of the conversation. Here’s some ways you can get involved:

Sign up for a free trial day.

Join our growing community.

Collaborate with us on a kick-ass event.

We look forward to working together!

Sinead, Amy, Tim and Will.