We are in an era of sharing. Traditional boundaries are being crossed; we now allow strangers into our cars and to live in our homes. Research on collaborative economy in 2014 by NESTA suggests that, over one year 25% of UK adults used internet technologies to share resources. Yet it appears that the sharing economy movement has largely failed to permeate the National Health Service.

Last year I was invited to speak at the inaugural TEDxNHS conference. I shared some of my experiences in leading Selfless, an international non-governmental organisation that finds innovative ways to improve the way we deliver health care. A key idea at Selfless is ‘skillanthropy’, the belief that every individual has a skill or talent that could be used to help others.

At the time, Selfless had created a successful online platform where young people, predominately health care students, can be ‘skills-matched’ to volunteering opportunities at third sector organisations. Students benefit by gaining invaluable work experience, and the resource-poor charities gain an appropriately skilled and enthusiastic volunteer.

Young people and front line health care staff tend to face similar challenges in engaging outside of their immediate work or study environments – particularly in terms of accessibility and finding opportunities that are flexible around busy work schedules. We overcame these issues in volunteering by creating an easy-to-use online platform which allowed searching by location and skillset. We also promoted micro-volunteering: smaller, regular episodes of volunteering that could be recorded as part of an online volunteering CV. Feedback from students and prospective employers suggests that long-term volunteering increases employability.

We are now working with Imperial College Healthcare Partners (ICHP) in applying this collaborative technology to help catalyse innovation within the NHS on a project called HealthMakeSpace. The NHS is a health care innovation archipelago, where hospitals and general practice are like islands (surrounded by a sea of tech cities, start-up hubs and accelerators) that remain unable to make best use of emerging digital solutions. So to create bridges into our health care system, HealthMakeSpace enables technologists, developers and coders to work directly with NHS staff to co-create ‘healthtech’.

End-user collaboration is essential to ensure technology is relevant to hospitals processes and clinical practice. Resistance to adopting new technologies can often be overcome if you can confidently answer questions, such as ‘will this add or reduce a step in my current working practice?’ or ‘does this fit in with local or NICE guidelines?’ Applying our learning from volunteering, we have enabled tech developers to target NHS staff working in a relevant field so they can access their expertise. For example, a district nurse can connect with a surgical wound management app, or a budding endocrinologist with a diabetes management tool.

An important driver for the quality movement gaining widespread adoption in the NHS has been its ability to align with training programmes and continuing professional development. Trainees can present their audit or quality improvement project at annual reviews, and have it acknowledged as part of their career development. Our work with ICHP will pioneer the creation of ‘innovation credits’ and an online clinical innovation CV. This will allow staff to have their time spent developing technology that improves patient care accredited, as a worthwhile activity in demonstrating their commitment to a certain clinical specialty or interest.

Collaborative platforms have enabled companies such as Proctor and Gamble produce 35% of its innovation through its ‘Connect and Develop’ strategy. HealthMakeSpace is an exciting ambition to synergise the expertise of 1.4 million people working within the NHS and our flourishing tech sector, to help us achieve better and more accessible patient care.

Naeem Ahmed (@DrNaeemAhmed) has an interest in strategy and works as a doctor in London. He is a founder of HealthMakeSpace and Selfless.
View a film about HealthMakeSpace.

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Jack Ponting



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