Scotland has the right mix for digital health and care

What does the future of patient records look like? You can forget about the reams of paper, the terrible handwriting, the vast quantity of information locked away in the filing cabinets of hospitals, medical practices and pharmacies.

Digital technology is transforming the way that information is stored, analysed, shared, and used across the whole circle of care. From paperless patient records to managing the health of entire populations, technology is rapidly changing the way that healthcare is delivered. But these changes don’t happen overnight. New technology needs the right combination of factors to succeed: plenty of data to use, a co-operative health board, access to detailed patient records for whole populations.

And then there’s the question of location: what works in cities might prove impossible in rural areas. That’s not to mention the challenges of prototyping and getting your product to market. Scotland’s thriving digital health and care sector is proof that the country has a perfect mix of these factors. From the integrated health and social care system to the mix of urban, rural and remote areas, the future of Scotland’s digital health and care sector is extremely promising.

Scotland moves to paperless systems

Scotland has a strong cluster of companies developing specific software to replace paper health records. Nugensis, for instance, provides data visualisation software to gather patient health data from a range of sources, making it easily accessible for the people who need it most. The software makes sharing and handing over care more efficient – cutting the time that people spend catching up, and keeping everyone updated on a single platform. There are also Glasgow-based companies such as Cohesion and AxSys that design software to improve clinical decision making – from tablet-based data entry during consultations, to running detailed analytics and accessing complete patient medical history. These products are developed alongside health boards in Scotland, bringing together the collaborative power of NHS Scotland with some of the country’s best IT specialists. Using a mobile device to collect health data has applications beyond the hospital ward. Cojengo, also based in Glasgow, has developed an app designed to diagnose illness among livestock in remote rural areas. The app will allow vets and farmers in Kenya, for instance, to better monitor livestock and to react quickly when there is a problem.

Scotland has the talent for digital health companies

None of this could happen without the talented people to write the code, test the products, and develop the software that changes lives. Alongside the 200,000 health staff in Scotland, there are 73,000 people who currently work in digital technology – and around 7,000 people working in digital health and care companies.

Businesses looking for fresh talent have plenty of graduates to choose from. Scotland produces 17,000 graduates each year who have specific digital health expertise – and the University of Edinburgh is home to a dedicated Digital Health Doctoral Training Centre. That’s just one of the reasons that Scotland attracts big global players.

“We set up in Glasgow because that’s where the talent is,” says Nick Willox, Regional Lead for Orion Health, a health-specific software company based in New Zealand. “Recruiting here has been very rewarding. The west of Scotland is a rich hunting ground for staff with clinical expertise, project management, and support staff.”

Access to patient data that spans lifetimes

When building innovative software to address some of the key problems in healthcare delivery, data is the first concern. That’s where Scotland has an edge: it’s a perfect test bed environment, giving companies access to complete health data that spans a patient’s entire life. That makes it much easier for companies to test their solutions on rich datasets, making for more efficient, useful outcomes. It’s not just about the data though. Scotland also has a broad mix of urban, rural and remote areas. So you can test solutions for dense urban populations, as well as isolated rural communities.

Innovative opportunities with the Digital Health Institute

The Digital Health Institute (DHI) helps to get projects off the ground. It focuses on three areas: stimulating ideas, prototyping them, and taking them to market. The institute provides comprehensive support, and has had recent success with Talking Medicines. The company has developed an app to allow patients to discover more about their medication, encouraging correct use and improving the treatment. Patients scan their medicines with a smartphone, and the app displays information in an easily understood, intuitive way.

Jo Halliday, co-founder and director of the company, puts the success of Talking Medicine  down to the network of support from Scottish Enterprise, Scottish Development International and the Digital Health Institute. “Through them we have been able to unlock a great deal of support, from market intelligence and industry contacts to valuable networking opportunities and financial assistance. “As a nation with a reputation for innovation, Scotland has a huge network of mobile health and technology startups through which to learn and build partnerships.”

The Government’s eHealth strategy demonstrates the country’s commitment to more efficient digital healthcare. With support from government agencies such as Scottish Development International and Scottish Enterprise, the sector is already set on the path to growth.