Health Policy

Professor the Lord Darzi emphasises the importance of innovation on global healthcare systems

By - World Healthcare Journal
Professor the Lord Darzi emphasises the importance of innovation on global healthcare systems

Every two years leaders from the world of healthcare gather in Qatar to discuss issues of global importance at WISH – the World Innovation Summit for Health. Supported by the Qatar Foundation, WISH’s intent is to build a healthier world through global collaboration, focusing on innovation at its core.

Headed by Professor the Lord Darzi of Denham, the themes of WISH this year tackle some of the greatest global issues – anxiety and depression, data science and AI, design in healthcare, eye health, healthcare in conflict zones, nursing and universal health coverage, the role of the private sector, and viral hepatitis. Taking place over two days, the summit will hear from such prestigious names as former Irish President Mary Robinson, now founder of Mary Robinson Foundation for Climate Justice who will speak on climate change and health, former British Foreign Secretary and now president of the International Relief Committee David Miliband, and guest speaker former Olympian swimmer Michael Phelps among others. With an innovation hub highlighting successful young innovators, the summit aims to do more than merely discuss issues and challenges.

WISH evolved as a result of the Global Health Policy Summit co-hosted with the Qatar Foundation at London’s Guildhall in 2012. The success of the summit inspired the Qatar Foundation to launch the World Innovation Summit for Health in Qatar in 2013. “We wanted a way of getting a regular gathering of policy makers, opinion leaders and health system leaders to examine current healthcare burdens affecting global health systems,” says Lord Darzi, Director of the Institute of Global Health Innovation at Imperial College.

Professor Darzi also holds the Paul Hamlyn Chair of Surgery at Imperial College, the Royal Marsden Hospital and the Institute of Cancer Research. As a former Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department of Health and as Vice Chair of the UK Government All Party Parliamentary Group on Global Health, he is particularly aware of the need to present innovative ideas in an easily acceptable format for busy Health Ministers to take home to implement.

Innovation and health systems

 “Whatever challenge you look at in life at the moment, whether it’s health, education, energy, even politics, the only approach to tackle these is through innovation,” Lord Darzi believes. “What are the things we can do that create value and how do we avoid things that take value away - like Brexit? The UK does well in terms of invention; however, where it stumbles is in creating health and economic value. There needs to be a degree of adaptability or a pragmatic way of introducing an innovation through a health system, whether it is in France, the UK or the US. Different systems produce different cultural dynamics. In the UK we produce incredible strategies, but we are slow to implement them.

“Over the past few years we have seen over emphasis on regulation; however, this is not the answer. Once a product is out of the regulatory framework and is ready to be used, that is when the process of diffusion becomes important as you can create much more value with improved strategies for adoption and diffusion.

“We also need to look at cultural dynamics which is one of the most powerful enablers of innovation diffusion.

“There are huge opportunities in innovation, but you have to have a system that is adaptive, constantly changing to facilitate. That’s the big problem with systems that have been around for 70 years. The other side of the argument would be that many countries don’t have a health system, so they can’t do it either. The issue is the right balance. ”

Fledgling health systems

There are many countries where the health system isn’t sufficiently evolved to effectively adopt innovations. Some charitable organisations have put a huge amount of money behind vaccines and other health programmes without understanding the need for a health system to distribute and manage such an agenda.

Countries such as Mexico have found a way to address challenges by adding $2 to $5 to monthly mobile phone bills to give access to free phone calls to doctors 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

In some lower- and middle-income countries austerity is the mother of innovation. Malawi, for example, has an innovative orthopaedic drill that costs a tenth of the price of the drill currently used in the UK NHS. “This innovation was initially devised for lower- and middle-income countries, but what we have done is create awareness around this concept of reverse innovation,” says Lord Darzi. “We went to the regulator and explained that with a sterile cover it will be compliant, and cost saving, and will be trialled in one London NHS Trust soon. ” 

Between meetings WISH follows on to see which health system has taken an idea and how it has worked out. “There are plenty of ideas in the reports,” says Lord Darzi. “It comes back to which are the ones that you pick which are most relevant to your health systems and what are the system level changes that you need to make to facilitate the uptake. Who are your innovation champions? What are the innovation rewards? What are the system and cultural dynamics that can help you to engage the whole country in debate as we recently saw in the U.K with mental health. One area of innovation in mental health is the rise of digital applications including the delivery of CBT to teenagers who would probably prefer not to see a psychiatrist or psychologist face to face. ”

Professor Darzi’s own research is directed towards achieving best surgical practice through innovation in surgery and enhancing patient safety and the quality of healthcare. He has published more than 1000 peer-reviewed research papers to date. But his motivation for global healthcare stems from operating on a single patient and the notion that although it saves lives, the impact of a system-based approach can be at a population level with a greater value creation. One such example was the reconfiguration of stroke services in London which saved a lot of money and lives.

WISH provides the perfect environment for healthcare professionals, governments and NGOs to present and debate new ideas. “Through WISH we are trying to create awareness around the whole concept of frugality,” says Lord Darzi. “There’s much to learn from lower- and middle-income countries in terms of process innovation that has created a huge amount of value. There are some incredible new business models ranging from microfinancing to cataract surgery costing as little as $42 with comparable outcomes to those at Moorfields Eye Hospital in London. It’s about business models; it’s about processes; it’s about technology - both drugs and devices.

He’s keen to emphasise that improvements are not just about money. “Cardiovascular disease has been an amazing story in the last decade. In comparison, cancer has sadly fallen behind but it is catching up, especially with recent advances in breast cancer treatment. You can turn these things around if you have the leadership and commitment.

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