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An Approach to Future Crisis in Healthcare

There is an opportunity to reflect on the response taken to tackling the challenges associated with the pandemic, from the initial period of crisis management to planning for future outcomes in a way that allows for an improved approach.

When reviewing the working practices and procedures that have emerged and evolved over recent months it feels as though we are, in a strange though understandable way, comparing ‘wartime’ with ‘peacetime’.

Nothing unites like a common enemy and unite the technology sector did. Competitors worked together and barriers between specialisms were broken down in a way never experienced before. Every organisation had to rethink, reprioritise and transform, particularly those working with, or for, those operating at the front line of the fight against the pandemic.

For obvious reasons, transformation is happening faster in healthcare than anywhere else. As a technology company, we’re not alone in taking steps to repurpose technology and relationships in a way that is useful and valuable in supporting the NHS.

The software engineering methods and partnerships established to address challenges associated with the pandemic are in some ways extreme versions of approaches developed to address other problems, they have just become dramatically more focused.

Collaboration, innovation and commitment have been required to make the resulting solutions real. Where technology companies have not had a solution in their ‘back pocket’, it has been necessary to repurpose solutions or systems designed for use in another context or to fast-track development of a partially complete product. One benefit of this extreme call to arms is the ‘crash course’ in understanding needs and requirements associated with a different sector and its user types.

In the redevelopment of Babelfish, described in the article linked above, we took a product originally designed for auditing housing stock and modified it for use in Alder Hey Children’s Hospital. 


The development team had to quickly engage with hospital staff and clinicians, establishing three, crucial overarching considerations when developing digital solutions for health and care.

  1. How could the system best enable and support personalised care?
  2. In what way could staff using the system be empowered to improve operational and clinical outcomes?
  3. Does the solution protect healthcare information and ensure security compliance?

With these points in mind, it is possible to start thinking about how existing and emerging platforms can be combined to support the healthcare sector and ease the burden on the NHS, communities and wider society.

In terms of the Microsoft solution set, there are some obvious candidates:

  • The Teams collaborative platform can be used to support Telehealth and virtual visits.
  • Azure can be used as a platform to deliver scheduling and a virtual visit experience.

In short, a range of technologies and capabilities could be defined in consultation with users based on context and priorities. The technology solutions are all there, though some repurposing is required in order to combine the various tools to address data intensive healthcare challenges.

Perhaps partly in recognition as to how these various products are being employed, Microsoft have combined cloud capabilities across multiple platforms and created a solution specifically dedicated to healthcare in the form of MS Cloud for Healthcare.

This development has the potential to be a gamechanger in terms of how data from a myriad of sources within a healthcare environment such as patient information, clinical data and operational data can be merged into a native format, such as FHIR, to provide insight and support decision making across the healthcare estate.

As data becomes more interoperable it can be made more accessible, allowing for the creation of a common data model and the development of a library of machine learning algorithms that support AI tools like NLP (Natural Language Processing).

MS Cloud has the potential to save time wasted in ingesting and unifying data and to drastically improve clinical and operational capabilities.

With respect to supporting personalised care, Healthcare ‘bots’ have already emerged and will continue to be refined, allowing citizens to self-triage, assist with the identification of symptoms and support any care focused process which may include accessing virtual help such as technical consultation with a clinician.

Future applications systems will help identify where the best resources are and how these can be utilised. They will help in the management of continuous care and in the dissemination of accurate, securely held healthcare information.

What is clear from working with and speaking to technology partners, is that the effectiveness of any response during the recent crisis was heavily dictated by how early companies recognised the need to change operational methods and structure while leveraging available talent and skills.

At Chess we believe our greatest asset to be our people and our culture. As mentioned in another article, we developed inhouse technology to help our people communicate and support each other. It has been heartening to witness how effectively groups have come together internally and with partners to address the various challenges.

In the new ‘post war’ environment, whatever that looks like, we will continue to draw upon the talents of our people and our partners to understand how best to meet the needs of customers, to help them frame their goals and to determine the appropriate set of solutions to use.

It is fair to assume that as a result of responding to the pandemic, available technology will be more advanced and fit for purpose than two years ago. The technology sector should have confidence in the knowledge that both individually and in collaboration, we can rise to any future challenge, having developed considerable resilience, capability, tools and skills.


About the author

Don McIntyre

Don is a designer, technologist and educator who has spent more than 20 years working at the junction of design and technology with companies and organisations across commercial, public and applied research sectors such as Oyster Partners (now DigitasLBi), The Fraunhofer Institute, MIT and Giugiaro. He speaks regularly at public forums on the transformative capability of design innovation and divides his time between the Innovation School at Glasgow School of Art, where he is Design Director, The Digital Health and Care Institute, and Chess Digital where he is Creative Lead.

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