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HIHI: A hub of innovation and learning

Opinion piece | Posted on: 22 April, 2020
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Professor of Medicine and Director for Global Relations at the School of Medicine, Trinity College Dublin, Prof Seamus Donnelly outlines the value of the Health Innovation Hub and why education will help achieve the culture change needed in Irish healthcare

It was Steve Jobs who said: “Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.” As healthcare workers, we now live in even more extraordinary and challenging times than ever before. Challenges are evolving and we must innovate and adapt. As Professor of Medicine and Director for Global Relations at the School of Medicine, Trinity College Dublin (TCD), I have a long-standing interest in health innovation and in particular evaluating early-stage technologies, assessing quality-of-life of patients remotely.

I strongly believe that the adoption of these novel technologies will change the way we practice medicine. It will empower patients and allow them to become partners in their own care. I believe that the Health Innovation Hub Ireland (HIHI), of which I am one of the principal investigators, will facilitate the evaluation and adoption of these technologies for Ireland and improve care for all our patients. It is why I became involved in HIHI.

As a joint Government initiative between the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation and the Department of Health, HIHI wants to look at solutions for the long term, not just get by in the short term. HIHI drives collaboration between the health service and enterprise, offering benefits to both and leveraging one another’s strengths. We offer companies the opportunity for pilot and clinical validation studies and the health service access to innovative tech and devices that they may otherwise not be exposed to. HIHI, an Enterprise Ireland and HSE partnership, bridges the divide between the health sector and the enterprise of health. We apply this mindset to all of our work.

Staff mentors

Another part to our remit is to assess ideas and concepts for healthcare innovation from healthcare staff — clinical and non-clinical. Acting as mentors and advising on taking an innovative idea and developing it into a service or product. Bringing the industry mindset to the frontline, who undoubtedly have the best solutions to our health challenges.

I know that HIHI has the potential to change how we deliver healthcare here in Ireland. The advent of personalised healthcare, precision medicine and a very informed consumer-led health sector means the old system won’t work. Those working in Irish healthcare know that although extra investment helps, there is not enough available for the shift required — this must come from us, healthcare professionals across the board. HIHI can help us achieve this.

If we want to create a sustainable culture of innovation within the Irish healthcare system, then we need to reach everybody. We need to empower problem-solvers and convert thinking into action through culture change. I believe that part of this culture change will be achieved through education. With this in mind, my role with HIHI inspired me to design a robust academic offer, which we deliver jointly as a HIHI/TCD Postgraduate Diploma in Healthcare Innovation. Our students become catalysts for innovation within the health system.

Postgraduate diploma

Sustained innovation in Irish healthcare, at an economically and fiscally responsible pace, must be a collaborative effort, requiring input from key players across the health landscape. HIHI and TCD recognise this and deliberately recruit students from both the health sector and the enterprise of health to the postgraduate diploma in healthcare innovation. Current students come from the frontline, policy, pharma and health industries. Entering its second year, the postgraduate course is now open for applications for the 2020/21 cohort. There are a limited number of scholarships available to HSE staff.

The postgraduate diploma in healthcare innovation develops innovative practitioners with the skills to identify and implement evidence-based innovative leadership practices. Focusing on future health solutions, students gain a practical understanding of applying new technologies in healthcare. Examining the role of health economics, quality improvement and the principles of governance in leading effective, innovative health services is a key learning. Critically appraising innovation theory and practice informs students’ personal approaches in applying solutions that are at the forefront of global healthcare.

Our students are supported to create a personal innovation framework that can be applied to their organisation. Our graduates are then positioned as lead architects of positive change, accelerating the healthcare system to one with innovation at its core. We need this now, more than ever. The postgraduate course culminates with modules 7 and 8 focusing on a practical project comprising two phases. We support our students to identify and plan an innovative solution applicable to each participant’s workplace that will have a positive impact in Irish healthcare.

Typically, the diploma is delivered through blended learning — face-to-face and online. If the current Covid-19 restrictions persist, the entirety of the course will be delivered online.

Culture change

One of the most exciting areas for me is the culture change, which we can engineer through education. It won’t happen overnight, but we do need to adjust and reset some approaches in healthcare in Ireland and this postgraduate course is part of that effort. Our students are confident and inspirational leaders, learning to create their personal innovation framework to apply in healthcare organisations. We want to engage right across the hospital structures and industry landscape to create a healthcare culture receptive to innovation; by teaching a new way of thinking, we will find creative solutions to health challenges.

Developing services for the frontline

HIHI has a remit from the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation and the Department of Health to support business development and positively impact healthcare. HIHI recognises that collaboration with business can benefit patient care, patient pathways and outcomes. The hub’s national network connects innovative healthcare products with people qualified to test them, through usability, pilot and validation studies, supporting the development of new healthcare technologies and exposing the Irish health system to the latest innovative solutions.

A central part of the HIHI remit is also dedicated to assessing ideas and concepts for healthcare innovation from healthcare staff — clinical and non-clinical. HIHI acts as mentor and advises on taking a frontline idea and developing it into a service or product. This empowers frontline problem-solvers to convert thinking into action. Additionally, to sustain a culture of innovation within Irish healthcare, HIHI delivers a programme that offers innovation workshops, roadshows and the postgraduate diploma in healthcare innovation.

This piece originally appeared in the Medical Independent here.