16th May 2019
In this blog we set out why technology is important in healthcare and why healthcare technology must be compassionate. Our founder Lina was on Victoria Derbyshire talking about the role of compassionate tech – see the clip below.
Why is technology important in healthcare?
There is no doubt that our healthcare system is under huge pressure, budgets are squeezed and services are overstretched. Technology provides an opportunity to provide these services at lower cost.
This is a big focus of the new unit, NHSX, which aims to bring the benefits of modern technology to the NHS. This will both relieve pressure on staff as well as empowering patients to take control of their health.
For example, a recent innovation, is an app that helps to reduce the pressure on A&E waiting times. It will patients identify which A&E department has the shortest queue, along with how long it will take to get to the different departments.
Technology also allows us to focus on prevention, across mental and physical health. From loosing weight (eg. Our Path) to meditation (eg. Headspace) we’re seeing more and more consumers use these tools to take care of their health.
Why is information technology important in healthcare?
Information technology refers to how we manage information and data across systems, including the secure exchange of that information between different players in the healthcare system.
A lot of patient records are still paper based, but there has been a drive to create electronic patient records so that information and data can be better managed and shared across the system. But this has proved to be challenging. With issues ranging from interpretability (how systems talk to each other) to data security to cost.
What is compassionate tech?
Compassionate tech is the use of technology to solve social problems and provide support to those who need it. This can range from using tech to combat the social isolation of older people, to bringing down waiting times for mental health therapy or to provide new employment opportunities for the homeless.
And, excitingly, in the UK, the compassionate tech sector is booming. New figures show that the tech sector grew 2.6 times faster than the UK economy as a whole last year – and compassionate tech was one of the biggest growth areas.
In fact, the UK has more investments in compassionate technology companies than the rest of Europe put together. And the ecosystem is developing rapidly, with new initiatives such as Zinc VC (where Adia was born) bringing together co-founders to build new tech companies to solve social problems. A core part of Zinc’s approach is to apply insights from social sciences in new ways using technology, and to facilitate collaboration between the academic, public and private sectors.
Why is compassionate tech important?
No-one can deny the advance of technology is only set to increase. Over the last few years there have been significant advancements in power of big data and Artificial Intelligence (AI). Our homes, devices and cities are increasingly ‘smart’ – collecting data about our habits and behaviours, and adjusting our environment automatically.
As tech therefore becomes more ingrained into the fabric of society, we must harness its power for good not just for convenience. A ‘smart’ home could be used to conserve our use of energy or automatically reorder household goods when they run out, but it could also be used to raise the alarm if an older person who lives on their own falls and injures themselves.
The benefit of tech solutions is that they are both scalable and sustainable. They can be maintained at little cost, and now with AI can become smarter and smarter over time. At a time when public services are stretched and under-funded, tech can provide much needed support. Of course technology can’t solve all problems, and for those who need face to face support, it must remain available.
There are many potential harms and tricky ethical questions related to the increasing use of technology. To give one example, researchers at the University of Virginia trained an AI on a widely used photo dataset. They discovered that the AI amplified predictable gender biases found in the photos—going so far as to categorise a man standing next to a stove as a woman. We must undoubtedly build robust systems and controls to deal with these issues, as well as co-designing new technology with a diverse range of people (of different genders, ethnicities, ages, backgrounds).
Our approach at Adia
At Adia, we believe in the power of tech to provide women-centred healthcare at the touch of a button. Women’s healthcare – and in particular reproductive health – is an area that has suffered greatly from a lack of research and innovation and is disconnected from women’s needs. We treat physical and mental health equally, and at the same time. All the women we have spoken to acknowledge feeling stressed, anxious or down in relation to challenges with their reproductive health. Services at the moment, fail to address these psychological needs.
Excitingly, we are seeing a wave of innovation and entrepreneurship focused on tackling social problems through technology. There are a number of leading UK female entrepreneurs who are focused on women’s health, from Tania Boler at Elvie to Billie Quinlan at Ferly.
Compassionate tech is therefore an exciting opportunity to design services that tackle long-standing problems in new ways and focus on the needs of the people using them. At Adia, we are excited to be at the start of our journey designing women-centred reproductive healthcare, for women by women.