Putting engineers in the picture to improve health care

Peter Bannister is a FLIER participant, Chief Customer Success Officer for Mirada Medical and Executive Chairman for the Healthcare Sector at the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET).

I’ve got a dogged belief that, ultimately, engineers can solve any problem they put their mind to. The risk is they dive in and try to solve the wrong problem. One of the things that gives me sleepless nights, is the thought of engineers talking to other engineers about how to “fix” healthcare. If they’d only talked to the right people, they might have understood the problem and been able to help a patient or a clinician much more quickly.

I studied engineering as an undergraduate followed by a PhD in medical image analysis in a clinical neuroscience lab. Since then, I’ve worked in different companies using 3D imaging for patient monitoring, developing new technology for keyhole surgery, using microwave radar for detecting breast cancer and creating software for cancer immunotherapy trials.

For the last year and half, I’ve been working in radiation oncology; supporting the planning of radiation treatments with machine learning. It’s a technology which people are very excited about but, for me, it’s happens to be the most appropriate solution for the particular problem, and it’s led by clinical need, not by trying to find a home for the latest technology.

What’s run concurrently with this work over last few years is my voluntary role as chairman of the Institution of Engineering and Technology’s Healthcare Sector. With its broad membership, the IET is in a unique position to solve complex multidisciplinary problems that might require input from different technology areas.

For me, a key reason for joining the FLIER programme was the Academy of Medical Sciences’ reputation as a leading organisation. What continues to impress me since joining the programme is how engaged the fellows are with the success of the trainees. Every time I’ve had an opportunity to interact with fellows, they’ve conveyed a very genuine interest in how the programme is going and who we are as individuals. That’s hugely motivating.

When I joined FLIER, my pitch for a project was to develop a code of practice for software as a medical device. Software is frequently used in medical devices, for instance apps and machine learning for medical imaging or other health care data. I wanted to communicate the practical steps you need to follow as a technology developer to be able to meet medical regulations, but also to meet clinical user requirement, particularly for start-up companies where there may only be two or three people with a limited skill set and limited resources.

But, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the thought of trying to raise 60,000 pounds to pay for a code of practice seemed less important.

By then, I’d picked up a lot through the FLIER programme about how to actively network and how to really engage with people. And what still felt very important to me was to show some real-world examples of improving the delivery of health and care through the use of software in medical devices. So instead, I’ve been putting together a podcast called the Evidence Space. It looks at different types of evidence that are needed to prove to society at large, but particularly patients, payers and clinicians, that your innovation actually solves a real problem.

For example, I’ve looked at what types of evidence investors need to back your product. I’ve done another episode with a patient advocate about getting patients involved in the design process. I’ve also talked to people from a regulatory background about the rules you need to follow.

It’s made me realise that I have a lot of incredibly interesting people in my network. I’ve been buoyed by the success I’ve had in introducing some of those people to each other in quite funky combinations. I’ve learnt a lot from these conversations and hopefully the audience will learn a lot too.

I’m very motivated by solving real problems that have the chance to have an impact at scale, and I think the Academy has given me connections and helped build my ambition to keep heading in that direction.

The project has also given me a focus around the challenge of communications. I want to get beyond the buzz words, to give engineers, clinicians and patients a common interface to collaborate, and to define and solve problems together.

We can move the standard of global healthcare forwards quickly if we collaborate more.


For more information on healthcare within the IET, please visit the dedicated page. You can listen to Dr Peter Bannister's podcast here

Dr Peter Bannister is a participant in Round 1 of the Academy of Medical Sciences’ FLIER Programme, a unique programme that will develop leaders of the future who can create collaborations across academia, industry, the NHS and government to drive innovation.

The FLIER Programme is generously supported by the Dennis and Mireille Gillings Foundation and the Government Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy ‘Investment in Research Talent’ fund. If you would like to support the work of the Academy to develop talented researchers, visit our Supporters page.

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