The engineer pioneering a digital revolution in healthcare has said that combining medicine and electronic communications is the route to better health for all.

Andrew Thompson, CEO and co-founder of Proteus Biomedical, was speaking at ‘Engineering innovation in the NHS’, a one-day conference organised by the Royal Academy of Engineering Panel for Biomedical Engineering.

The UK-born engineer, who now lives and works in California, told the conference that: “universal care should be a goal.”

The work being carried out by Andrew Thompson is to use modern communications and social media to help transform the lives of people with chronic diseases such as diabetes, dementia and depression. By embedding small chips into oral medicines, readings can be sent to mobile devices providing real-time feedback to the patient, such as how good they are at timing their medicine and how active they are in daily life. This information can then be fed to healthcare professionals to improve patient management.

He said: “The only thing proliferating faster than chronic disease is mobile technology…By 2012, Facebook will be the largest country in the world.

“What we are proposing is the marriage of proven medicines and proven communications.”

He emphasised that a huge benefit of digital medicine would be the information created about use and effectiveness of therapy, and that this information would belong to the patient, not the doctor or the NHS. None of the data could be used without the patient's permission – giving the patient control over their own heath.

The conference, chaired by science writer and broadcaster Dr Geoff Watts, also heard from a number of speakers looking into different areas of innovation in healthcare.

Christine Glover, a Council Member for the College of Medicine, discussed the role of the patient in healthcare innovation and how through good engineering technology, patients could achieve the ultimate goal of staying at home rather than be admitted to hospital.

Professor Roger Orpwood from the University of Bath, looked at engineering’s role in supporting people in later life, including how technology such as spoken reminders triggered by movement sensors in the home of a dementia sufferer, could help quality of life and save the NHS money – dementia currently costs the UK economy more than cancer and heart disease combined.

Director for Improvement and Efficiency at the Department of Health, Jim Easton, spoke about the difficulties facing the administration of the NHS and issued a challenge to engineers to innovate with cost constraints in mind.

Consultant Vascular Surgeon at Leeds University, Professor Shervanthi Homer-Vanniasinkam FRCS, gave the conference real life examples of the innovations that clinicians are calling for, highlighting the need for ready-to-use materials and devices which work first time, all the time. She said that a problem with innovation was that sometimes there were too many solutions looking for a problem.

A panel then discussed: ‘Where are we now? How far have we come and what’s next?’ Professor David Kerr CBE FMedSci, Professor of Cancer Medicine at Oxford University, highlighted that medicine is increasingly about personalisation, how individuals respond to treatment and how increasing mobile technology is playing a role in healthcare in developing countries. Professor Daniel Steenstra, the Royal Academy of Engineering’s Visiting Professor in Innovation at Cranfield University, said engineers have a crucial part to play in healthcare innovation - in addition to managing technology development, they need to develop skills and expertise in interacting with patients and working with clinicians and healthcare managers in multi-disciplinary teams. Dr Suzanne Ludgate, Clinical Director at Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), stated that regulators need to work with scientists, clinicians and manufacturers in order to move innovation in the health sector forward.

Mirella Marlow, Programme Director for Devices and Diagnostics at the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence discussed the future and value of innovation in the NHS. She stated that the earlier we try to bring benefits to patients, the more we will need evidence that it is working.

Chair of the Academy’s Panel for Biomedical Engineering Professor Lionel Tarassenko FREng brought the conference to a close. His presentation explored how informed patients were becoming ‘consumers of healthcare’ and the role of innovation in the self-management of chronic disease. He emphasised that smart phone apps for self-management must be supported by clinical evidence and that their use should be integrated within clinical pathways.

Christine Glover, Council Member, College of Medicine
Opening address (401.67 KB)

Professor Roger Orpwood, Department of Health, University of Bath
The ageing population: can engineering support healthcare in later life? (2.29 MB)

Andrew Thompson, CEO, Proteus Biomedical
Innovation in healthcare: a global perspective (1.62 MB)

Professor Shervanthi Homer-Vanniasinkam FRCS, Consultant Vascular Surgeon and Professor of Translational Vascular Medicine, Leeds Vascular Institute and Leeds Institute of Genetics, Health and Therapeutics
Addressing the challenges; designing solutions [Presentation unavailable due to patient confidentiality]

Professor Daniel Steenstra, Royal Academy of Engineering Visiting Professor in Innovation, Cranfield University
Where are we now? How far have we come and what’s next?’ (1.43 MB)

Mirella Marlow, Programme Director, devices and Diagnostics, National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence
The future and value of innovation in the NHS (504.03 KB)

Professor Lionel Tarassenko FREng, Director, Institute of Biomedical Engineering, University of Oxford
Patients as consumers of healthcare – the role of innovation in self-care and self-management (1.06 MB)

Download the conference brochure (232.58 KB)

Watch the video from this event

Notes for editors

The Royal Academy of Engineering

Founded in 1976, The Royal Academy of Engineering promotes the engineering and technological welfare of the country. Our fellowship – comprising the UK’s most eminent engineers – provides the leadership and expertise for our activities, which focus on the relationships between engineering, technology, and the quality of life. As a national academy, we provide independent and impartial advice to Government; work to secure the next generation of engineers; and provide a voice for Britain’s engineering community.

For more information please contact

Ed Holmes on 0207 766 0655