Dr. Andrew Jones is the Head of Clinical Innovation at Amazon Web Services (AWS).

He has worked in the NHS as a GP for more than 15 years. He holds a Master’s degree in Intelligent Systems from the University of Sussex. 

Interview

What practical steps did you take to transition from practising as a GP to your current role as Head of Clinical Innovation at AWS?

The first thing I did was to get involved in little projects. We had an out of hours clinical system when I was a GP and I got involved with helping to design that and looking for ways in which we can improve it. Getting that frontline experience working on technology projects in your hospital or in your GP practice is always good.

I then did a masters in Intelligent Systems at the University of Sussex, which was artificial intelligence (AI) programming. It was a big insight into how to develop software solutions, particularly for healthcare. Obviously, I was lucky enough to pick a topic (AI) which has become a big theme in healthcare technology.

I think getting some formal knowledge is useful. There are lots of online courses out there right
now, and master’s degrees at lots of universities where you can get that kind of training, so I think
there are lots of routes.

With all your achievements to date what would you say drives you?

I think the thing that drives me the most is what drove me from the very start of my career in
health technology. There were a huge number of manual, often paper-based, tasks that I had to
perform as a junior doctor. I genuinely believe that new, innovative technologies — especially
those built in the cloud — have the potential to make a huge difference to the most important
aspects of healthcare, improving clinical outcomes. That’s what really drove me when I started
on this journey and it’s what still drives me now.

I genuinely believe that new, innovative technologies — especially those built in the cloud — have the potential to make a huge difference to the most important aspects of healthcare

How do you use your clinical knowledge and background working within the NHS in your current role at AWS?

I suppose my role is really to be a translator, so really explaining the cloud to clinicians and non-
technologists. AWS has always talked to the CIO, CTO, and the IT department. But increasingly
we’re talking to doctors, nurses, and medical directors. I help translate the clinical challenge and
explain the possible technology solutions.

For healthcare practitioners, I can explain how cloud technologies might help deliver better patient care. Internally, I can explain how healthcare works for those in the field. I bring that knowledge, tacit information, and understanding of healthcare and clinical medicine back into AWS so that we can design better services for healthcare organisations.

What is a typical working week like?

To be honest there is rarely such thing as a typical week for me, they’re always very varied and
keep me constantly stimulated. The weeks that I enjoy the most are when I spend lots of time
with customers. Spending time with clinicians and senior leaders within healthcare organisations
always provides such great insight into the ways in which we can help them with technology.

One of the things I most like about working at AWS is our obsession with customers. This is a
constant focus on what our customers need from AWS. It means first identifying the core issue at
the heart of any healthcare problem or challenge. Then we work backwards from that problem,
and identify who the customer really is — is it the patient, or is it the frontline clinician, or is it
someone else? By working backwards from that point, we can really understand and be clear
about the solution that they need. I spend a lot of my week working with customers in this way.


When I’m not spending time with customers I’m often speaking at events or writing blogs and
also working internally with colleagues on our strategy to determine how we can help healthcare
customers most effectively.

My role is to help explain how AWS can help reach some of those mission goals of healthcare — things like improving patient experience or improving clinical outcomes or just helping clinicians use their time most effectively.

The weeks that I enjoy the most are when I spend lots of time with customers.

What obstacles have you had to overcome to get where you are today and how?

I wouldn’t say I’ve had too many obstacles. I think one of the challenges when you are clinician is
pivoting away from treating patients directly and starting to think about how you help change the
system as a whole, improving the care and experience of many more patients. That can be quite
a scary jump to make. We invest a lot of effort in training to become clinicians and some people
might think moving into a technology role is leaving all that behind. But I still very much feel like a
clinician working for the improvement of healthcare and the improvement of patient experience,
I’m just doing it in a different way. More and more clinicians are making that move into
technology or entrepreneurial roles and I think that’s great. You just have to have the courage to
make that leap.

What are the current healthcare challenges that AWS are trying to address?

Increasingly what we’ve been trying to do is really focus on the mission of healthcare, the things that doctors and nurses would recognise as real ambitions and goals for their organisations — like improving patient experience and allowing clinicians to do a day’s work in a day, rather than having to work into the evening. 

That is where we’re trying to focus now. Rather than simply saying here’s something that runs in
your hospital data centre right now let’s move it, we ask how can we improve patient care using
cloud-based technologies?

We are working extensively in the NHS already, many of the NHS digital national services are
running on AWS such as e-RS (e-Referral Service), and the NHS 111 directory services.

We are trying to improve healthcare in novel and new ways, doing it quicker and more cost effectively
and therefore helping in that way.

What are the main challenges with utilising AWS technologies in the public healthcare sector?

There is lots of regulation, quite rightly, to ensure that: solutions are safe, they protect data
privacy, they’re secure, and they’re being procured in the right way. We’re trying to
find better ways of engaging with organisations to speed up those kinds of processes and help
them develop secure clinical applications which protect patient data. 

The other big challenge in the public sector is that it’s sometimes quite difficult to take a risk.
Implementing technologies can feel risky. Even though the risk of not doing anything, I think,
sometimes has a bigger impact.

We work with organisations to mitigate that risk. With cloud, you can try something — you can
create a proof of concept, or a minimum viable product. You can try it out and if you don’t like it,
you can shut all that down on the cloud and try something else.

We’re having increasing success helping people to realise that putting things on the cloud, is
more resilient. It’s less like to go down and it’s more likely to perform well, so when everyone logs
in on a Monday morning your systems won’t all slow down.

What tips do you have for start-ups looking to integrate and then commercialise with the NHS?

One thing I would always say is start with the customer, the end user, or the patient. Who are
you trying to help. What problem are you trying to solve? Be clear about that before you do
anything else.

It’s important to know how you’re going to solve a problem, and to be able to give
a crisp answer to how your solution is going to solve that problem from the perspective of the
patient and the healthcare organisation.

We have a process at Amazon and AWS called ‘working backwards’ and that’s precisely what
we do. We start with the customer and identify the problem we are trying to solve. Then we write
a press release, which others normally write at the end of the process. We write it at the
beginning as if we’ve made the solution. It describes on one page who the solution is helping,
how’s it going to help, and what benefits we expect to see. We find that it is a helpful process to
focus on the challenge at hand.

Finally, come and talk to us. AWS was built on helping start-ups to get their technology scaling and being commercially successful in the cloud.

We have a start-up team both in the public and private sector and they will help with the whole process of starting a new business including finding investment, the technical skills, and business advice as well.

It’s important to know how you’re going to solve a problem, and to be able to give a crisp answer to how your solution is going to solve that problem from the perspective of the patient and the healthcare organisation

What are key success factors in going from a pilot with the NHS to traction at scale?

The transition from proof of concept to a broadly adopted solution can be a challenge in healthcare organisations anywhere. There are lots of situations where proof of concepts do not
necessarily go beyond just that.

I think the areas where I see organisations being successful is when they have evidence-based proof of the effectiveness of their solution.

We know that if we prescribe a treatment or medication there is normally an extensive evidence
base that supports the use of that treatment. I think increasingly people are going to be asking for exactly that same kind of evidence for technology investments because inevitably if organisations are going to spend money. And, if doctors are going to trust their patients with an IT solution to their problems, there needs to be evidence one that it’s safe, and two that it’s effective.

Also, be able to demonstrate the economic benefits for the healthcare organisation. For all
healthcare organisations around the world, but particularly in the NHS, available funds need to
be spent appropriately and effectively. So being able to make an economic case that shows the
benefit and the return that you’ll get both for your patients, but also economically in terms of delivering care more cheaply and effectively. 

The companies which I see doing well are really good at marketing and I don’t mean necessarily TV ads, it can be Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter. They’re good at telling people about what they’re doing and how they’re trying to solve a problem, and what their solution looks like.

I think that helps because when people see it out there it gives them a bit more confidence that you’ve got a solution that might be successful.

The companies which I see doing well are really good at marketing

Which health tech start-ups are you most excited about?

One that I really like is Axial 3D, an organisation based in Belfast. What they do is they take MRI and CT scans, and they use AWS to process those scans and then use a 3D printer to print a model of that part of the anatomy.

So, if you’re a cardiac surgeon and you want to look at the anatomy of the heart of the patient that you want to operate on in a couple of weeks, for planning purposes, you can have a 3D model of that. That’s a cool application of those technologies. 

Axial 3D is so good at getting themselves out there, by posting things on social media, sending emails to people. I get a newsletter on a weekly basis telling me what they’re doing at the moment. I mean that’s one really good example but there are so many others that I could mention.

How do you envision healthcare will change in the UK with the use of technology in the next 10 years? 

I think we will see lots of entrepreneurial activity, innovation, much more than ever before. People having the courage to start start-ups, create innovative products, and execute on great ideas. I think that it is easier and quicker to innovate right now.

I think that it is easier and quicker to innovate right now.

About The Author

Niam Arora

Niam graduated from the University of Birmingham medical school in 2020 and is currently working as a junior doctor at Watford General Hospital. He also works as a Digital Fellow at a health-tech start up in London. He is actively pursuing a career within healthcare technology.

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