Saturday, 22 August 2015

Innovation for innovation's sake?

As Director of the UCL Institute of Digital Health, my job is to envision the future. The future is fueled by innovation and vision. And there's plenty of that around. But the reality is much more challenging: as summarised in a recent blog post, most people aren't that interested in engaging with their health data (the ones who are most likely to be tracking their data are young, fit and wealthy), and most clinicians are struggling to even do their basic (reactive) jobs, without having much chance to think about the preventative (proactive) steps they might be taking to help people manage their health.

Why might this be? Innovation is creative and fun. It's also essential (without it, we'd still be wallowing around in the primordial soup). But there's a tendency for innovation to assume a world that is simpler than the real world: people who are engaged and compliant and have time to take up the innovation. Innovation tends not to engage with the inconvenient truths of real life, or to tackle the difficult and complex challenges that get in the way of simple visions.

We need a new approach to innovation: one that takes the really difficult challenges seriously, that accepts that the rate of progress may be slow, that recognises that it's much harder to change people and cultural practices than it is to change technology, but that these all need to be aligned for innovation to really work.

We need innovation that works with and for people. And we need to recognise that an important part of innovation is dealing with the inconvenient and difficult problems that seem to beset healthcare delivery, in all its forms.

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