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The NHS is facing unprecedented demand as we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, with huge push behind data and digital to build a more agile, efficient and sustainable health service.

Beyond the fundamental enablers of digital transformation – including cost, accessibility, convenience and technological advancements – are the real drivers of change; patients and clinicians, who too often can be on the periphery of the conversation.

To change this, the University of Plymouth, the AHSN Network (the national voice of England’s 15 academic health science networks) and Boehringer Ingelheim have launched the first evidence-based recommendations to drive digital innovation inclusive of health technology. How to engage and involve patients in digital health technology innovation, An evidence-based guide sets standards to ensure patients are at the center of digital transformation.

As digital health innovators seek to demonstrate that their technologies can add value to the system, the scale of the challenge is clear: as of April 2022, the UK had over 300,000 eHealth apps on the market , but only 6 out of 10 innovators consult with patients. before deciding to develop a new digital health tool.

Commenting on the new guidance, Matt Whitty, Managing Director of the Accelerated Access Collaboration and Director of Innovation, Research and Life Sciences, NHS England & NHS Improvement, said:

“Through research and innovation, we can improve patient outcomes and reduce health inequalities. Patient-centric digital technology is an increasingly important aspect of a vibrant and sustainable healthcare system. By ensuring that patients are involved in the development of these digital technologies, we will create solutions that best meet their needs. I hope this guide will help support the development of innovative digital technologies across our health services. »

The new user-friendly guide has combined the results of a systematic review of the literature, advisory panels and input from multiple stakeholders to produce four clear principles (ENACT) around patient and public involvement and engagement ( PPIE). The principles clearly explain how to engage patients in product innovation and make recommendations on critical issues such as data privacy, intellectual property, inclusivity, reimbursement, usability and patient recruitment for health technology entrepreneurs.

The guide not only assists with initial digital development, but also puts in place processes to support continuous product improvement. By embracing the fundamentals, digital innovators can continually evolve their product, better communicate its value to the system, and critically improve patient confidence in the technologies created.

Zainab Garba-Sani, patient and NHS manager involved in developing the guide, said:

“The pandemic has brought digital healthcare transformation into the lives of many people for the first time and now, more than ever, there is a need to push for patient empowerment in the innovation process. Without it, we risk amplifying health inequalities and missing out on the great potential to reduce disparities.

The strong academic basis for the guide was provided by the University of Plymouth research “Meaningful Patient and Public Engagement in Digital Health Innovation, Implementation and Evaluation: A Systematic Review”, which was recently published in the international journal Health Expectations.

The review was followed by a Delphi study to consensually evolve the ENACT principles. The collaborative effort with Boehringer Ingelheim and AHSN helped test the principles, refine and produce the guide.

Professor Arunangsu Chatterjee, Dean of Digital Transformation at the University of Leeds and Visiting Professor of Digital Health and Education at the University of Plymouth, said:

“Digital health innovation is still relatively new territory and there is a need for clarity to ensure inclusive patient development. Bringing together the academic rigor and expertise of organizations like ours, the business expertise of Boehringer Ingelheim, and the AHSN community network has accelerated positive change, and the development of this resource has been a true partnership.

Richard Stubbs, Vice President of the AHSN Network, summarizes why the guide is so valuable:

“To drive real change in our healthcare system, a patient-centered approach must be at the core. The guide makes key recommendations in this area. Simple steps like building relationships with community leaders and influencers can help innovators engage with patients and families in underrepresented demographics. I hope this guide can support inclusive innovation and have a positive impact on the digital transformation of the UK healthcare system.

Uday Bose, Country Managing Director at Boehringer Ingelheim UK & Ireland, explains the importance of this guide:

“What is critical to the success of any effort we undertake for patients is engaging them and actively involving them from the start. Modern healthcare systems cannot afford to waste time or effort, so we hope this guide will help the system create patient-centered innovations effectively.

The guide will be distributed across the AHSN network to support innovation across the NHS, helping to ensure patient voices are integrated into digital healthcare reform and is available for download from the Boehringer Ingelheim website.