Meet Jane Van Aken, Director of Product Development at Spirit Digital, a remote monitoring solution supported by the AHSN Network. Jane discusses her ‘light bulb’ moment, advice for budding innovators and how virtual monitoring has been a lifeline for many during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Tell us about your innovation – what and why?

CliniTouch Vie is our award-winning digital health platform, connecting clinicians and patients remotely to make healthcare safer, smarter, and more efficient. The platform empowers patients to monitor and manage long-term conditions from the comfort of their own home, whilst providing clinical teams with everything they need to deliver brilliant care remotely.

We’ve published evidence showing that remote monitoring reduces unscheduled hospital admissions and offers more cost-effective patient care, so it really does have benefits for patients, clinicians and the system overall.

We pride ourselves on knowing how healthcare works. With over 150 years’ collective experience in health and social care across the team, we’ve developed our remote monitoring solution to match the needs of clinicians and their patients.

What was the ‘lightbulb’ moment?

There have been lots of ‘aha’ moments around patient feedback and clinician input. Seeing how we support and ‘lift’ patients and clinicians through our evidence-based approach to disease management is definitely something that drives us to continuously improve and innovate.

During the pandemic, virtual monitoring was the lifeline for our most vulnerable patients and highlighted the importance of the work we are doing in the space. We recognised that CliniTouch Vie not only supports our patients but empowers and complements our incredibly qualified clinicians with their day-to-day workload. I say this as a clinician – knowing that with CliniTouch Vie I can monitor patients every day and make home visits to those patients most in need at that moment in time is a game changer. Making a video call to a patient and connecting with them virtually often fills that void of doubt for them. Sometimes a kind smile and a reassuring voice is all that’s needed.

As we continue to innovate and develop the platform, the lightbulb moments keep coming!

What’s been your innovator journey highlight to date?

Adding in ‘rewarding’ doesn’t do it justice. It is humbling to be able to support across the virtual patient and clinician experience. Getting feedback from patients and being able to hear first-hand the positive impact it has had on their lives will never get old. We’re all about making health easy, so to see that mission realised for patients, it doesn’t get much better than that.

It’s also been fantastic to get recognition for our work from across the industry by way of awards and funding, it’s that extra confirmation that we’re doing a good thing and doing it well.

Just recently we worked with the European Space Agency (ESA) on a pilot to integrate air quality data into CliniTouch Vie. Working on that project was a really exciting opportunity, there are so many possibilities for the future of the platform.

How have AHSNs supported you?

The East Midlands AHSN and Spirit have had a long standing and collaborative relationship, which started in 2017 when Spirit Digital applied (and were successfully appointed) to be a participant in the AHSNs prestigious Digital Accelerator programme. From that, Spirit became an alumni, supporting others to engage with the programme. During the pandemic, the AHSN teams have been instrumental in introducing the proactive Spirit team to a number of NHS commissioners, which has led to our successful deployment of a number of coronavirus initiatives and rapid deployments of our digital remote monitoring software – this has meant that hundreds of patient interactions have been successfully done remotely, keeping people out of hospital, safe at home and improving outcomes.

What’s been your toughest obstacle to date?

Delivering the platform many months before we had planned to! We responded to the government’s call to action to help with virtual health care efforts during the pandemic. The team worked extremely hard getting the product to our patients and clinicians to enable remote care and rehabilitation.

As we responded to the crisis, we re-configured our algorithmic questions to help detect signs and symptoms of coronavirus in our patient cohort. We also designed and implemented a new coronavirus discharge pathway, which supports patients following an admission (often to ICU), enabling them to be discharged home with the ability to monitor their health and progress to recovery.

Hopes for the future?

Digital access for all. Easily accessible virtual care at all levels of health and wellbeing.

Support and shared information from other technology solutions where patients ‘tell their story once’ and health care providers have the latest information about their patients is my digital hope for the future. This will enhance care and improve outcomes at all levels and ultimately create efficiencies in health care management – connected systems will massively help us all in the management of our health and wellbeing.

A typical day for you would include:

Lots of collaboration with the Product Engineers, the Product Delivery Team and the wider Digital team to continue to create and deliver brilliant products for our patients and clinicians.

Best part of your job now?

Spirit celebrates brilliance, vigour and family. These elements are part of every day, along with challenge and pressure. Doing something I love, which I believe is making a difference for good with a great team of people and the support of an entrepreneurial culture is the perfect blend of job satisfaction.

What three bits of advice would you give budding innovators?

  1. Decide what problem you are trying to solve.
  2. Define your user needs.
  3. Make process your friend… and have fun!
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