COVID and Innovation – The “COVID Crowbar”

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected the whole world and forced us to change, at least temporarily, our business values and behaviours. It has created a desperate need for alternative solutions, both short-term e.g. homeworking and treating large numbers of COVID-19 sufferers, and longer-term in the way we retain the good features of lockdown while returning to work in the “new normal”.

I’ve been struck both by the funding that has been released to look at these challenges and the overwhelming response to these calls – 900% over-subscribed in the case of a recent Innovate UK call.

My own trip “back to the future” has brought together the medical research I did early in my career, subsequent research into applied AI and the very successful development and delivery of the NHS online symptom checkers.

I’ve been working as programme manager for Polyphony, from OpenClinical. This is a programme to develop and deliver COVID-19 knowledge to train, and ultimately advise, healthcare staff dealing with COVID-19 patients. Useful, but what really excites me is the capability of this technology to handle the treatment of patients with other existing conditions like diabetes, who are at higher risk. This is a potential that won’t progress without both lever and fulcrum to achieve change. A crowbar (pry-bar) provides both, and the COVID-19 crisis offers businesses a crowbar for change.

So I have two insights falling out of lockdown:

  • You can’t go back to the past – it has gone forever! You need to plan for a new future where many of the changes lockdown has forced will stay (as no end is yet in sight for COVID-19)
  • Innovation is vibrant, especially in the UK (where we have a great history of innovation then not making money from it).

I very much hope that I’m able to help OpenClinical transform the way that medical knowledge is codified, shared and collaborated over to improve the care of patients with COVID-19, but also in the longer term to help the treatment of any patient with more than one condition (co-morbidity).

Though there are many awful consequences of the pandemic, there will be some good consequences. Home-working for many has improved work-life balance, though home-schooling is pretty tough when trying to work too.

Code-breaking led to the invention of the computer – let’s hope they can eventually crack the problems of treating co-morbidities.

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