The Stack Archive Feature

AHSN Network: Improving patient care in the digital age

Wed 21 Jun 2017

Liz Mear, Chief Executive at The Innovation Agency, discusses how new digital initiatives are driving critical improvements in healthcare…

For Liz Mear, who heads up the Academic Health Science Network (AHSN) for the North West Coast, spreading innovative ways of working in health is key to improving patient care and driving efficiencies in the digital age.

There are currently 15 Academic Health Science Networks across England, which aim to bring together businesses, the NHS and partner organisations in order to improve health and boost economic growth in the sector.

‘The reason for our creation was the increasing demand on healthcare – and a system that was too busy to look for alternative ways of working. We are connectors, bringing together health providers and innovators and we are tasked with accelerating the pace of change,’ she notes.

The AHSNs cover populations of between three and five million residents, she explains, and link the NHS, local authorities, universities and industry to improve the quality of care for residents.

After more than four years in existence, AHSNs have achieved fantastic results. Mear shares that over six million patients have benefited from the initiative, more than 200 innovations have been introduced to healthcare through AHSN efforts, and more than 11,000 locations are actively developing innovations supported by AHSNs.

Helping organisations to get ready for innovation through culture change, leadership and learning programmes

Mear cites the incredible impact the initiative has had on reducing strokes caused by atrial fibrillation, or irregular heart rate. In the year 2015-16, estimates show that AHSNs prevented a stroke a day, equating to 365 lives and saving the NHS around £8.5 million.

In 2016-17, in one region alone, 256 strokes were prevented when atrial fibrillation was identified through the use of portable ECG monitors. Mear explains that the role of the AHSNs was to introduce the tech and produce supportive tools for health professionals such as an AF dashboard and a toolkit for staff. She expects that this particular project will have saved around £5.6 million.

‘As well as helping to spread technologies and other products, we provide expertise and organise collaborations in patient safety and improvement, helping organisations to get ready for innovation through culture change, leadership and other learning programmes,’ she adds.

What’s next

Looking forward to the future, Mear suggests there are challenging times ahead for healthcare, but AHSNs will be able to help health partners identify innovations to make efficiencies as part of their transformation plans.

The aim is to reduce the pressure on the health and care system and to empower people

‘We are involved in the NHS Test Beds which are trying out new ways of delivering care, with new technologies; and we are helping the NHS Global Digital Exemplar trusts to make the most of the opportunities they have to build on their excellent digital programmes – for the widest possible benefit, beyond their own boundaries,’ she says.

Mear believes there is huge potential for AHSNs going forward. ‘We want to help the population take more control of their own care – using apps, self-care tech at home and having access to their medical records. The aim is to reduce the pressure on the health and care system and to empower people.’

She concludes: ‘We want to achieve improvements in healthcare in hospitals, nursing homes and care delivered in patients’ homes – and we know that by involving residents, charities, businesses and academics in coming up with the solutions, we will create a sustainable NHS.’


Screen Shot 2017-06-21 at 09.12.59Liz Mear will be speaking at the Digital Healthcare Show, taking place at London’s ExCeL, 28th – 29th June.

Register here for your complimentary pass. 

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