The biggest digital developments of 2016

Every year sees exponential growth in the number of initiatives and innovations helping to bring pharma and healthcare up to speed with the latest digital developments, and 2016 was no exception. Topics which dominated our news and features this year included the rise of wearables and how they can be used in every aspect of healthcare, the growth of online patient communities, and the use of new tech in clinical trials. 

But one of the biggest digital stories of the year was a negative one. In July, NHS England pulled the plug on its highly controversial medical information sharing scheme, following years of relentless criticism and concerns over data security, public awareness and commercial access. The programme was designed to link information from different NHS providers to provide timely and accurate information to patients, clinicians and commissioners about treatments and care. But plans to centrally store patient data and allow third parties access – albeit in pseudonomised form – was a key bone of contention for critics, not to mention the significant lack of public awareness on the scheme. 

The announcement came on the back of a review into safeguards for sharing patient data by national data guardian Fiona Caldicott, which proposed 10 security standards to be applied in every health and care organisation handling personal confidential information. These include measures to protect systems against data breaches, ensuring NHS leadership takes ownership and responsibility for data security, and that organisations are fully prepared "to meet the challenges of the digital age". Crucially, Dame Fiona recommended a new consent/opt-out model, in order to give people a less complex choice about how their personal confidential information is used. 

Consequently, the government launched a consultation on the proposed data security standards and new consent and opt-outs model for data sharing in the NHS and social care, to better gauge public opinion on these issues. 

Luckily, this year there has been an explosion in initiatives designed to accelerate digital innovation within the NHS, while the NHS Vanguard scheme has continued to allow certain NHS Trusts to test digital solutions to problems in primary and secondary care. 

In October the health service announced that developers of digital technology designed to improve mental health can now vie for a slice of £400,000 on offer to help accelerate uptake of their products – similar to the more general NHS Innovation Accelerator, covered in our July/August issue, which entered its second year in 2016. 

This Digital Development Lab – run by mHabitat in partnership with MindTech and Social Spider – will give six to eight innovators the chance to have their technology endorsed and nationally promoted within the health service. 

Those successful will be given access to funds to accelerate adoption of their digital technology, as well as help with generating evidence of impact and access to mentoring on a range of topics including regulation and implementation. 

Similarly, DigitalHealth.London launched its inaugural Accelerator programme, with the aim of providing "in-depth" knowledge of the NHS to a group of "high potential" small and medium digital health businesses to help narrow the gap between product development and uptake. 

A dedicated team of skilled Digital Health (NHS) Navigators will work alongside the businesses, to help them engage with healthcare experts and understand the needs of the market as well as gain first-hand advice on products in development. 