Te online search for better health

As Chief Technology Officer at Skyscanner Alistair Hann helped build Scotland’s first ‘unicorn’ - but with a doctorate in monitoring patient care, he’s now developing a digital platform for the NHS. Kevin O’Sullivan asks him about the challenge.

What drew you to your new role and how are you enjoying it? From a tech ‘unicorn’ to the NHS is quite an unexpected move! I have long been interested in how technology can improve care. Te subject of my doctorate was patient monitoring in high dependency care in hospitals - we were using machine learn- ing to produce alarms that gave earlier warning of when patients were deteriorating and had fewer ‘false alarms’ than existing systems. After leaving Skyscanner, I was

looking for an opportunity to get back into developing products in healthcare and I looked at whether there were start-ups in Scotland I could help, or whether to found something. Ten, somewhat out of the

blue, I heard about the Digital Health and Care Strategy and the opportunity to build a National Digital Platform for Scotland.

Tat ticked my boxes in terms of health care, Scotland, and a challenge!

What expertise and experience are you bringing to the challenge? Skyscanner taught me a lot about how to grow teams, design big software systems, and deliver valuable products that consumers love. While online travel seems miles away from healthcare, there are some similar challenges such as data locked into proprietary silos. Of course, healthcare is a much more complicated domain with a broader group of stake- holders, and I got a chance to work in that environment during my doctorate. Having founded my own company, worked in a healthcare start-up, and advised other start-ups I am familiar with having to build something from nothing and we are recruiting a new team from scratch to deliver this.


Can you describe the size and scope of the project for the National Digital Platform and the implementation timescales? Te scope of the platform is all of health and social care in Scotland - so that’s GP practices, hospitals, social care and, critically, citizens being able to control their own data. Tere’s also the mandate to provide data for research and to improve health and social care services. A traditional approach would have been to spend years and millions of pounds capturing requirements for that, and then more years building the system. Tat approach is outdated, as the telephone book of requirements is rarely what is needed at the time the product arrives. Our timescales are very different, we are delivering a series of products powered by the platform, the first of which will be ready early next year. With each product release we will learn more about user needs

and can quickly respond to feed- back. It will be years until we are able to entirely replace the whole system – for example, there are fourteen territorial health boards with hundreds of systems each – but we will be delivering value and improving care from the start.

Why can’t we access our medical records online already when vir- tually every facet of life has been digitised, from online banking to travel and retail? How far away are we realistically from being able to do that? Technically, this is a relatively straightforward problem to solve – in other parts of life, such as online banking, we have deter- mined how to use technology to share records and notifications securely online. Te bigger chal- lenges arise when it comes to get- ting a health benefit from sharing medical records – how do you get people do take action that will

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