Barbara Harpham, chair of the Medical Technology Group, writes about the importance of involving patients in the implementation and use of medical technology in different healthcare settings.
The Medical Technology Awareness Week reception at the House of Commons is a rare opportunity to bring together MPs and NHS leaders to discuss the ways in which medical technology can benefit the NHS.
Every year, we see examples of the best technology on the NHS being used to prepare for the challenges of the future – from surgical robotics to virtual reality headsets to training future surgeons. Most importantly, it’s also a chance for patients to tell their story of how medical technology has helped them.
It’s usually a powerful moment, and a welcome reminder, beyond the present crisis, that our health service still has the potential to transform and save lives. It’s also an opportunity to make a vital point. We must place the interests and experiences of patients first and foremost, especially when planning for the NHS’s future.
We’ve long documented the benefits of medical technology to patients in our campaigns. The key outcomes of its use are less time spent in hospital, faster recovery post treatment and an improved chance being able to live a normal life with their condition. During the pandemic, as we found in our report, the use of such technology became vital.
Despite this, one curious aspect of our health service is that good patient representation is often missing from many of its key decision-making processes – particularly around the implementation of medical technology. Proper patient representation is too often tokenistic, with no processes in place to fully understand how best patients can advise on the uptake and implementation of the technology in the health service.
The new Integrated Care System approach is an opportunity to address this. Patient representation at all levels of NHS decision making is at present lacking – but first and foremost it should come on the new Integrated Care Boards. For these decision makers, proper patient representation must be seen as key to achieving their population health goals.
For providers of technology to the NHS – patient experience can be both an asset to informing the design and specification of such technology, and also to embolden its chances of being procured in the first place. I cannot stress enough how powerful it is for clinicians to hear first-hand how a particular patient has benefited from a piece of technology – and indeed explain how it might work for them.
One of our patient speakers at parliament, Dave Bracher, suffers from a spinal cord injury. Hearing him speak about how medical technology allows him to take control of his condition was very moving, but also a wakeup call for how patient experience is often overlooked when it comes to implementing medical technology in the NHS. As Dave said, he is the expert on how his condition impacts him, and therefore has valuable information to offer to both clinicians and patients.
Patient experience can therefore offer valuable data that can assist with the procurement of technology. At present, neither are being adequately used. As we recover from the pandemic and the new ICS system settles, the Medical Technology Group will continue to push to ensure that patient voice is at the centre of decision making when it comes to medical technology.