Five Questions with Abeer Itrakjy, Innovation Delivery Lead, Imperial College Health Partners

As the only international Member of AVIA’s Network, U.K.-based Imperial College Health Partners (ICHP) offers a unique perspective toward our collective goal of transforming healthcare through digital innovation. ICHP’s Abeer Itrakjy spent a week integrated in the AVIA team earlier this year. Here, she shares her reflections on that time, which digital best practices translate well to other markets, and which challenges seem universal to all geographies.

 

1. Can you share any key learnings from your time spent with the AVIA team?
One of the things I was most keen to learn was AVIA’s approach to scaling digital innovation. In the National Health Service (NHS), we tend to get stuck in the pilot phase. Your advice to change the language, avoid the use of the term ‘pilots’ and start with an initial implementation, define 3-4 KPIs and what scale you’re looking to roll out at the start was very interesting and definitely something I have been preaching to the ICHP members since I returned.

Another aspect that stood out was the commitment your members have to remain at the cutting edge of healthcare delivery and their desire to implement digital innovations for the benefit of their patients. I was inspired to see that dedication, coupled with the trust that AVIA’s members have in you to be a partner in addressing their needs in digital.

2. What are some of the primary similarities and differences in the challenges faced by healthcare organizations in US vs. UK … and what role do digital solutions play in addressing those challenges?
The differences in the way healthcare is paid for in the U.K. vs. the U.S. leads to different motivations, incentives and drivers for health systems to adopt new digital innovation. However, many of the challenges are similar—for example, the challenges around interoperability, culture change, and clinical engagement.

It was interesting to see a common strategic objective among U.S. health systems is around growth. Due to the way funding flows through the NHS, we focus on funneling patients to the right part of the system as opposed to increasing numbers of patients coming in. For example, use of virtual triage systems in NHS is purely for triage and to ensure appropriate use of services. In U.S. this is also used to bring people into health systems.

3. How does the nature of the overall healthcare delivery system in the UK impact the way that innovation is evaluated, implemented and scaled?
One of our greatest learnings has been that the key to successful innovation adoption is creating a cultivated environment in which it can thrive. Simply focusing on the supply side of innovation, and point solutions, without ensuring that relationships and culture are appropriately established and aligned will only lead to failure of such solutions. We have therefore always seen it as our role to support our partners in developing the necessary resources and capabilities through our values.

At present, the NHS structure, resources and accountability all mitigate against making the most of innovation. There is often a tension between top-down initiatives driven by the government and what is needed locally. There is an absence of innovation teams within healthcare providers in the NHS and so ICHP helps to plug this gap.

This is why our partnership with AVIA is so important, as we can share learning and accelerate innovation amongst our member organizations and beyond.

4. What are some areas where you feel digital innovation has the largest opportunity to create a significant impact on the health of your populations? What will it take to turn these opportunities into reality?
In recent times there has been a huge growth in the use of consumer-based and patient-facing digital innovation, and much of this is beginning to be adopted and recommended by the NHS.

There’s similar opportunity to look at the use of technology to support back-office functions, such as patient flow, diagnostics, multi-disciplinary working. At ICHP we are supporting our members as they evaluate the use of AI to improve patient flow, as well as in imaging and diagnostics.

5. How is the scope of ICHP’s work impacted by your organization’s partnership with AVIA? What have we learned from one another?
We are a learning organization and part of our role is to identify international best practice and translate the learning for our members in Northwest London. Our partnership with AVIA helps us to think differently and bring a new perspective to the challenges we are helping to solve.

The partnership works particularly well as both organizations share the same change model. Define the problem and only then look for a solution. AVIA’s rigor in helping their members to articulate the specific problem they’re looking to solve is inspiring, and we follow the same method at ICHP.