In the fifth episode of The Healthtech VC, Dr. Fiona Pathiraja is joined by Dr Saira Ghafur – the digital health lead at Imperial’s Institute of Global Health Innovation, and consultant in respiratory medicine at St Mary’s Hospital.
Dr Ghafur’s portfolio career includes working as a frontline clinician, leading on policy work focusing on the digitisation of healthcare, as well as cofounding two start-ups: Psyma which provides online access to psychologists and talking therapies; and Prova Health, which generates evidence to support digital health work.
Evidence: Chicken and egg
In her role at Imperial, Saira faces the challenge of evaluating the effectiveness of various digital health innovations. This is not an easy task. You may approach the NHS with a great idea or a technological tool, but without the evidence of effectiveness, it won’t be adopted into clinical practice. Saira likens it to the chicken and egg scenario – without implementation it’s incredibly hard to actually demonstration the usefulness of digitisation but implementation of an untested innovations is often hard to get off the ground.
The Institute of Global Health Innovation is leading the way with this challenge. They’re also linking up with both startups and multinational companies to identify what type of evidence is needed to make the leap from theory to practice.
CyberSecurity and a Patient-Centric approach
The 2017 WannaCry attack made headlines around the world when a malicious attack on NHS systems occurred over a 24-hour period. Saira recognises this as a huge wake up call for the healthcare industry, which clearly demonstrated the need for world-class cybersecurity. It also shone a lens on how the security of patient records is truly a patient safety issue.
Cyber-attacks such as WannaCry leave lasting personal and economic impact. Electronic health records are unable to be accessed, radiology results or blood test results are delayed, leading to delays in care and adverse outcomes. This, amongst other things, led Saira to set up the first academic centre for cybersecurity in healthcare.
The big ambition here is for all patients to have access to their own healthcare records. The security implications for building a workable system are large but need to be surmounted if we are to effectively move to a patient-centric system.
Managing a portfolio career
Saira cites the importance of finding people that can support you to develop a portfolio career in medicine. For her, this has meant the support of the Institute’s co-directors Lord Darzi and Dr Dave Nabaroo. Saira’s career is an example of being proactive and constantly wanting to learn. Her curiosity allowed her to have a broad range of fellowship experiences from working for Professor Sir Bruce Keogh at NHS England to international fellowships in Switzerland and the US.
On embarking on a portfolio career, she says: “Take the opportunities. Say yes to everything. Look at what you’re really interested in and find people to support you.”
Find out more about Imperial’s Institute of Global Health Innovation here.