Bleddyn Rees is a partner at Wragge Lawrence Graham, and head of the Healthcare Practice. He is sitting on the Board of Directors of the European Connected Health Alliance and is a passionate cyclist. Bleddyn tweets under @bleddy_rees about occupational health, the international health sector, the NHS and social care systems, and policies & reforms. Bleddyn was interviewed by SOMA Analytics’ co-founder and Director, Johann Huber (@MangoHammock). Soma Analytics is also the company behind the Getuberyou email subscription service and webshop.
Johann: I have been told that lawyers are generally very good in defining things so how would you actually define digital health?
Bleddyn: First of all, many people don’t understand what digital health really is. Thus, I use the term connected health, meaning e-health, m-health, telecare and telehealth. Healthcare is still in the early stages when we talk about m-health or e-health. But what this is really all about is just making sure that health and social care use the latest technologies that exist, to deploy health and social care services. The real importance of adopting this technology is to improve the quality of services to people, make them easier to use from a customer’s perspective, improve the quality of those services clinically, and make health and social care systems around the world more sustainable. The financial challenges in healthcare are very well known in different countries, so we need to counter all these costs by using technologies that make it more efficient to deliver patient services.
Johann: What we see now is that digital health tools are not only used for health care directly but also for preventative purposes—even in the working world. How would you say the working world will change given the availability of digital health tools?
Bleddyn: That’s an interesting question. Many businesses will typically measure ill health by counting the cost of sick days from their staff. And, some of the more enlightened businesses will look at employee well-being. They’ll think about how to make their workforces happier and healthier. This is not just from a sickness perspective but from a genuine wellbeing perspective — meaning that when they are at work they are happier and therefore more productive. The enlightened businesses are able to have happier and healthier staff and can uphold a competitive advantage in the delivery of goods and services that they provide. I genuinely believe that we’re going to see an explosion of wellbeing, and the question is over what period of time. Businesses will start to realize that there are significant returns on investment in wellbeing initiatives in the workplace.
Johann: It sounds like you believe that companies can show real, tangible results through digital health initiatives. Or in other words, will there be tangible outcomes by using those technologies?
Bleddyn: Yes, I think that’s going to be key. Every business will work on a return on investment criteria, which will be different from what the health services and social care services use in terms of a much more rigorous clinical return. But in the business environment, it’s very easy to calculate reductions in sickness days and reductions in insurance claims. So I think that, yes, those technologies and applications that produce reliable data and allow businesses to see & calculate the benefits will succeed.
Johann: Does your company already use digital health tools for employees and if so, how are they received by staff?
Bleddyn: As a firm, we pride ourselves on having an enlightened view of our workforce and trying to be the best employer that we can be. One aspect of that is wellbeing. So, I’m very keen, as a partner in the firm, and as someone who works in healthcare, to be walking the walk. I thrive on being at the cutting edge of technologies available in the wellbeing area. I hope the firm becomes a living lab for these types of digital technologies because our staff would have the opportunity to experiment, play with, and use these tools. Everyone I’ve spoken to thinks that using digital technologies is actually fun and enjoyable since they teach them something new about themselves.
Johann: What do you think of the new “people analytics” trend in HR? What I mean by people analytics is that data are aggregated and anonymised to help HR and well-being departments generate meaningful insights on the employee’s working environment?
Bleddyn: I think that the information that these new technologies provide is fascinating. In terms of what lawyers would call risk management: how do we improve wellbeing, how do we reduce stress, how do we help our staff lead healthier lives, the data is synthesized into insight to help us better manage those risks. And, frankly, the more understanding we have from data, the more effective we are able to employ techniques and meaningful services to improve employee wellbeing.