Interview by Elissa Hill.
In between running One HealthTech, doing a PhD in informatics, and getting ready to jump on a plane to Melbourne for #GIF17, keynote speaker Maxine Mackintosh made time to share her thoughts on health tech. How we can create a more diverse and inclusive health tech sector?
Global Ideas: What prompted you to start One HealthTech – a network that supports women and other underrepresented groups in health technology and innovation in the UK?
Maxine Mackintosh: Healthcare has always been an interest of mine, so I suppose I was primed to notice where there were low numbers of women in the tech environment. Given the number of women working in healthcare (in the UK 77% of our national health service is female), I was surprised by how few women were in health tech. Given that the future of healthcare will be so driven and determined by technology, I was definitely concerned that this would start to significantly impact healthcare. Communities are really the way to get things going, mobilise people and spread the best learning and passion. So that’s what One HealthTech set out to do. And we have an amazing core team who work night and day outside their day jobs to make that happen.
Gl: Can you tell us about some of the structural or institutional changes that are needed to get more underrepresented groups working in health and medical innovation?
MM: The question implies something tangible, but the biggest thing is culture change, which is very difficult to put your finger on! A few concrete things you can do to lead culture change are:
- Fast-tracking women who show potential, exposing them to environments they would have not had exposure to.
- Proactive mentorship of the next generation of women, with either men or women as mentors.
- Reduce the cost or access barriers, such as free tickets for women to big conferences or training.
- Profile and showcase ebullient role models.
- Flexible working, so there is a leniency to those working part time, or taking time away due to carer responsibilities.
- And of course a feeling of support and positivity through strong professional networks.
An open and inclusive culture is the key goal. It’s not so much about getting more women in, it’s more intersectional than that. It’s making sure that everyone, regardless of their gender, race, age, background, feels able to excel in the sector.
Gl: What are the most significant ways you’ve seen technology shape healthcare over the course of your career?
MM: The single most significant thing has been access of involvement, largely because of an ever-decreasing asymmetry of information. Medicine and healthcare used to only be for those who had been to medical school, or studied science, or nursing. Now, we can get much more involved in our own health, we communicate healthcare in more digestible ways, we have Google at our fingertips which means we can learn, and we are hyper-connected so we can easily meetup or link to an engineer, a data scientist, a designer, whatever it is you might need. And as a result, the solutions are produced by a much wider pool of people, not solely healthcare professionals. Which is great for new, different and particularly inventive ideas.
Gl: What do you think is the future of digital health?
MM: Data. We use data all the time in healthcare. Doctors make decisions based on “data” like the patient’s history, or the result of a scan. But if the data is a) connected, b) in the right place at the right time, and, c) of useful quality, then we can start to combine many more data inputs, build a much fuller picture and intervene faster and more effectively. But before that happens, we need to get the basics right around standards and interoperability, for example.
Gl: In your opinion, where should we be focussing our health innovation efforts right now to make the biggest gains?
MM: Skills and capacity building. We fundamentally don’t have enough people who come close to straddling the complex worlds of health and technology.
Gl: What’s your proudest career moment?
MM: When my amazing One HealthTech co-founder said that this was one of the best things she ever done. We have so much fun and good stress levels doing this. I’m proud that I’ve positively impacted her life in this way, and together, hopefully we positively impact thousands of other women’s lives.
Gl: Who or what has most significantly shaped your path to becoming a leader?
MM: Definitely the One HealthTech core team and our network ambassadors, a bunch of weird and wonderful, energetic and fiercely intelligent women. hey are all raw human. No barriers up. That has really shaped me to realise that to be effective, just be yourself.
Gl: What advice do you have for women who want to become health innovators?
MM: The single biggest thing is to be prepared, and have the skills to thrive digitally. In order to have the skills and leadership to survive in the future of healthcare, you’ve got to be flexible to new ways of working, new technologies and new ideas. Getting out there and taking advantage of all the free resources, events and training, meeting people like you and genuinely feeling the passion and enthusiasm for what is a very exciting field. It gets infectious pretty quick!
Want to hear more from Maxine?
Read five fun facts about Maxine here.