Partners Aim To Develop Patient-Led Innovations

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The N8 Industry Innovation Forum (N8 IIF) has helped bring about a new partnership which is using innovative research techniques to design products and services for older people and their carers to support them in improving their wellbeing.

The ‘Virtuous Cycles of Wellbeing’ project involves partners from the universities of Leeds, Lancaster and Liverpool working with Smith & Nephew, Icare, Liverpool Enterprise Partnership, Manchester City Council, Hull City Health Care Partnership and Carers Leeds.

The group got together at the N8 IIF event focussed on Active and Healthy Ageing, which took place in November 2012. As Alison McKay from the University of Leeds explains:
“At that event, the partners met, identified problem areas and developed some objectives – all within the day. None of us had a fixed idea of what would come out of the partnership and we have learned to be very opportunistic – having such a multi-disciplinary team in place means that we are flexible enough to adapt and respond as future opportunities arise.

“The innovation process we followed was faster than the usual academic pace, which has been invigorating for the entire team. One of our key objectives was to develop an appropriate methodology to test and develop ideas. As early as possible, we engaged with our target users at workshops organised by our partners at Hull City Healthcare Partnership CIC and Carers Leeds. This turned the traditional approach upside down since we were asking them to describe their problem areas to us and we were drawing and building prototypes as the conversations took place, to help us better understand the challenges.”

Heather Joy, Senior Operations Manager, Hull City Healthcare Partnership CIC said:
“Usually, our work involves trying to find a ‘best fit’ solution for patients, in terms of what is already out there. This project was completely different, as we looked at addressing patients’ needs as articulated by them, and designing a solution together. This has enabled us to look at patient care with completely fresh eyes: being involved with this project has helped us realise that you don’t have to work in healthcare to have an opinion on a potential healthcare solution, and we’re now looking at some of the challenges we face in a much broader, more creative way.”

Rod Hulme, Customer Insights Specialist for Advanced Wound Management at Smith & Nephew, has been involved with the project since the N8 IIF meeting in Liverpool. His role involves using a range of insight from patients, clinicians, healthcare professionals, and other providers to develop wound care solutions.

He said:
“The healthcare market is constantly evolving, and as a result we need better targeted interactions with patients and healthcare providers. The N8 IIF gave us the perfect environment in which to meet new partners. Through conversations we had on the day, we started to think about how we could contribute our expertise, but also how we could work with someone who could help us engage with patients directly.

“It’s not the first time that Smith & Nephew has collaborated with academics in a multi-partner project, but this project has been different in terms of how dynamic it’s been and how we’ve been able to involve patients directly. It’s helped us question what’s possible and where we can push the boundaries. We have used a model of diving deep to understanding our customers’ needs for some time, but bringing together the multi-disciplinary team approach of Academic-HealthCare Provider- Industry is much newer and has provided new dynamism and understanding of what a solution needs to deliver.”

The group has now created concept designs for internet-based services and physical products for older people on low incomes focussed on two areas – wound care and support for carers of people with dementia. For example, the workshops identified that one of the key concerns among carers of people with dementia is having the right tools and support to help them maintain their independence, so the partners have been looking at how technology can better join up the support and services carers receive. The group has also developed prototypes for people with long-term wounds to help them manage their own care via a software tool that could sit on a Kindle, which means it could also be used by carers and peripatetic nursing staff.

Alison McKay continued:
“This has been a great opportunity since it’s unlikely that this kind of work would have been funded through the ‘usual’ routes, and as a result we’ve not been constrained in terms of the areas we’re exploring and how we work.

“It’s also unlikely that the project team would have had an opportunity to meet or develop such a collaborative relationship, so the N8 IIF has made a huge difference. The ongoing support we had from the team at N8 was very helpful too – guiding us, rather than governing us.”

Since gaining seed funding from the N8 Industry Innovation Forum, the partners have been successful in securing further funding from the British Academy/Leverhulme Trust to explore barriers and opportunities to leisure activities for older people, and also supported a project which has received funding from the College of Occupational Therapists Institute of Social Psychiatry Award to look at ill health prevention regarding stress management among carers.