Dr Mohannad Alajlani, Senior Teaching Fellow – Digital Healthcare Science at WMG, University of Warwick reflects on the emergence of a new healthcare role that embraces widespread shifts to digital technology.
Digital technologies: The here and now
Businesses across all sectors have endured a turbulent 12 months in which Covid has accelerated requirements to embrace digital solutions as much as possible, whilst developing and deploying technology in the most effective ways. Digital technology is a pivotal factor influencing and enabling today’s industries in so many different ways, whether connecting workforces, liaising with clients, maintaining product standards or, most importantly, delivering services to support the health and wellbeing of patients, service users and workforces.
As part of this, we have seen a significant shift towards digital technology specifically within healthcare provision across the world in a variety of formats, settings and sectors. The word “healthcare” often connotes associations with hospitals, doctors’ surgeries, clinics, nurses and patients. However, the world of health and wellbeing is so much broader than this and applies to every single business and individual regardless of sectors, industries and services provided.
Whether it is patients in hospitals receiving care or quickly accessing remote diagnostic services, users in specialist support centres dedicated to treating individual conditions, or staff members in a manufacturing company, the diverse world of healthcare provision has had to embrace and implement a new digital culture. This implementation of digital solutions has realised new approaches to healthcare, which has been most recently demonstrated through technology such as wearable devices and sensors. Equipment like this can be provided to patients in their homes to transfer readings and monitor elements like sugar levels in the blood. This provides autonomy and flexibility for the patient, but also maintains connectivity with clinicians without the need to travel and be present physically in the clinic. It is these sorts of life-changing techniques that show just how powerful digital can be.
New treatment methods and approaches to healthcare
The emergence of more digital technologies and reductions in physical interaction has resulted in the prevalence of new treatment methods such as telemedicine interventions through mediums such as video calls.
New levels of transparency and involvement for users have also been introduced through features such as digital apps presenting real-time health data and allowing for effective and quick inputting of data by users remotely without needing to travel or wait for a consultation.
Technology also means that users can benefit from healthcare in the convenience and security of their own home or workplace, which is prevalent from an accessibility perspective, particularly for busy professionals, disabled users and the elderly.
The emergence of a new healthcare practitioner
Widespread acceptance of new technologies and increased demand highlights the need for new kinds of professional roles that deliver against these digitally-focused market trends. For example, having personnel with the skills needed to use technologies like Artificial Intelligence (AI) to deliver services like predicting the trajectory of an individual’s illness or condition.
One of these key new professional roles is the Digital Healthcare Scientist, which is a brand new category of specialist accredited by the Academy of Healthcare Science. A Digital Healthcare Scientist bridges the gap between physical and digital health provision by maximising the use of both existing and new technologies. A Digital Healthcare Scientists has the skills to interact with technology whilst understanding both the patient and clinical perspective. The role not only involves applying technology but also includes recommending and advising other healthcare providers and patients on what type of technology can meet their respective needs.
Digital Healthcare Scientists are equipped with a unique set of transferable skills combining healthcare knowledge, data analysis, leading edge technology and digital capability. With a focus on data-informed and technology-enhanced delivery of healthcare, this new role aims to support a plethora of industries with a key focus on providing the user, patient or resident with the right tools and motivations to improve their own health and wellbeing.
For example, this could be using Big Data in healthcare organisations to change the future of diabetes and produce information that has the potential to transform the provision of diabetes care. Further applications could be centralised around improving productivity in pharmaceutical companies by using AI to enhance drug development and better understand how a drug could affect users, or applying data analysis tools to support healthcare insurance companies by detecting frauds and improving risk assessment.
Emerging technologies such as AI can be so powerful when applied in a healthcare context, but we need skilled personnel to apply AI in the most effective ways, and to maximise the scope of its potential. For example, detecting the trajectory of diseases and viruses, or supporting manufacturing and education sectors with data analysis around the wellbeing of staff based on working conditions and patterns.
In addition to the capabilities of data, we also have to consider the impact that these approaches can have. For example, understanding how a Digital Healthcare Scientist can have positive emotional and societal impact can enhance the resonance and power of individual treatment cases, for example increasing trust of residents in care facilities by keeping their data safe.
Delivering new education programmes to supply talent where it’s needed most
By adjoining experts, equipment and research facilities, WMG at the University of Warwick has been supporting the need for this new Digital Healthcare Scientist role. In collaboration with a number of healthcare organisations and stakeholders across multiple industries, we launched our BSc (Hons) Digital Healthcare Science degree in September 2019, which includes a combination of theoretical and practical topics to ensure new concepts and approaches are applied in real healthcare settings. Key topics revolve around consultation, decision making, clinical psychology, data analysis and digital solutions development.
How can organisations from all sectors acquire this new role?
Any levy paying organisation can access their funds to pay for this course and it can be used to recruit new talent to fill a skills gap or upskill or retrain existing employees.
We have a dedicated Degree Apprenticeship team who are experienced in delivering effective and efficient support to both employers and apprentices.
Our approach is to build a strong partnership with each organisation. The better we understand your needs, the better we can ensure that our programmes are fully integrated with the work the apprentices will be doing and the additional learning and development they may require.
Take your healthcare provision to the next level and find out how you can utilise the Digital Healthcare Scientist role in your organisation starting with our BSc (Hons) Digital Healthcare Science.