In our rapidly changing world where the digital age is prominent and relevant in all our lives, we need to reflect on the role that digital plays in knowledge translation in healthcare. Fundamentally, we are getting to a point where there is no technology barrier. Health organisations were designed for a different information age. If this is the case, we need to ask the question: How would you design a health system for the health needs of today?

Once we accept that health systems are not designed for the present needs of the population, then we can map what we need to do in order to move forward. Recognising and accepting that the legacy, data sharing environment is not fit for purpose will address the inertia and catalyse knowledge translation. The models of evidence collection are changing and the presumption of ubiquitous big data is a fallacy.

How to use digital tools to help knowledge translation in healthcare? Could consumers be the drivers of knowledge translation? In our day to day activities we gather data on our wearable devices (Fitbit etc.) and on the websites we search when we feel unwell.

Some points for consideration:

  • ‘Flybuys’ and similar retail reward schemes are not about accumulating points at all. These schemes give information about purchasing behaviour. Health could tap into this retail data source to address the obesity epidemic.
  • Encourage the evaluation, feedback, benchmarking of what we are doing i.e. the health outcomes and patient experience. This approach will provide ‘lubrication” for terminating entrenched practices that do not add value.
  • The systems that researchers and clinicians use are often not inter-operable, better compliance with data standards would help to decrease unproductive work-arounds and wastage.
  • Genomics of individuals compared to genomics of populations can create a broad range of possibilities for precision medicine, research and knowledge translation. Populations and individuals will need to access and securely share those data.

A practical way to think about evidence base, knowledge translation and behavioural change is to focus on the feedback loop. People generally respond very well to feedback. If presented in the right way it can reinforce decision making and lead to behavioural change whether for healthcare professionals or consumers. Fundamentally, we want to empower the clinician-patient relationship rather than put the power solely in the hands of the clinician or to move it to the patient.

“Digital won’t solve anything alone. It is a people problem.” Craig Thomler, Gov 2.0 Advocate

Read the roundtable report on Knowledge Translation here.