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  • Justin Whatling, Managing Director Global Health and Life Sciences, Palantir

Justin Whatling, Managing Director Global Health and Life Sciences, Palantir

Describe your career to date

My career in health informatics spanned over two decades, and started with a passion for measuring patient outcomes when assessing the impact of new treatments for Motor Neurone Disease while an undergraduate at Kings College London. I subsequently worked to advance the then limited use of IT in healthcare while practicing at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery. Digital health has enabled me to impact the care of millions of patients around the world and has been the best way for me to contribute back as a doctor to the care of patients and populations.


My early commercial career was spent developing a start-up, Outcome Technologies, one of the first companies measuring Patient Reported Outcome Measures, supporting pharma and medical devices companies with cost-effectiveness evaluation at the advent of NICE, and subsequently supporting care providers monitor quality of care provision. Through leadership roles in BT, Cerner and Palantir, I have pioneered work in telehealth, patient support programmes, clinical performance improvement, shared care records, life sciences, and population health management in countries around the world.


I am equally proud of my contribution to professionalism and the wider informatics community. As vice-chair and then chair for health at BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT, I helped launch the hugely successful chief clinical information officer campaign, ran tech start-up schools for health entrepreneurs, established the Federation of Informatics Professionals to bring together our IT professional groups, and helped to establish the Faculty of Clinical Informatics, where I subsequently sat on Council. 


It has also been a privilege to teach and give back experience through roles such as visiting professor in health informatics at UCL, non-executive director roles on the boards of esteemed and prestigious organisations with the BMJ Publishing Group and the National Institute for Health & Care Excellence, and through the BCS Academy of Computing Board. 

What key skills or attributes do you consider have contributed to your success in this role? 
I have tried to combine three things in my career and stay up to date in them all: medicine, technology and healthcare. It is easy to move from one thing to the next, it’s much harder to keep current in them all and try to be greater than the sum of the parts of your knowledge. 
Understanding and working between these domains has enabled me to spot opportunities and innovate.
– Medicine: I have tried to stay current in medicine and not lose the original passion that caused me to train as a doctor in the first place through organisations such as the BMJ and NICE.


– Technology: I have tried to look for the technologies that can make a real difference, even if it has required me to change employers and learn new skills. When I first started, the technology was clunky and the opportunities lived in the imagination of enthusiasts. Over the past two decades cloud technology, federated architectures and machine learning have moved information technology to the forefront of every healthcare setting. 


– Healthcare: I have tried to understand healthcare as a complex system of people, processes and technology and understand the interplay between these things in order to deliver transformative outcomes for patients. 


What level of data maturity do you typically encounter across your client base and what tends to hold this back? 
Although it has taken time, over the 20 years I have seen the progress we have made in leveraging digital solutions to support the health and care environment, in the UK and across the world. While not complete, I do feel we have reached a stage where data being captured in digital format is no longer the limiting factor, instead we are hampered by our ability to deal with data quality, integrate the increasingly diverse types of data and then use it for decision making and impacting care. 

What trends are you seeing in terms of the data and analytics resources your clients are demanding from you? 
The successful roll-out of many Electronic Patient Record systems over the past few years in the NHS has changed the dynamic of clinicians from being suspicious about the technology to them demanding the technology. This is getting data into digital format and making a whole world of digital transformation possible for the first time. 


Covid showed the public and the NHS the power of data and technology to improve healthcare: the research that found vaccines and treatments in months rather than years; the technology-driven workflows that supported the roll-out of the vaccine programme; the sophisticated analytics that pinpointed and reduced health inequalities and let the NHS plan capacity during the crisis; and the NHS app that enabled people to get back to travelling. 


Clients are demanding the same technology be applied to reducing waiting lists, managing emergency demand, joining up health and care systems and reducing the shocking health inequalities that are emerging. 


What challenges do you see for data in the year ahead that will have an impact on your clients and on the industry as a whole? 

We have seen a big focus and a lot of progress this past decade in integrating clinical data into shared care records to improve the safe care of patients. But this time, it is not just about integrating clinical data, it is now about integrating enterprise data such as workforce, finance, operations, patient reported data and devices as well as clinical. No longer is it appropriate for a bed manager to only see bed data, for a finance director to only see the finance system, for the HR director to only see workforce data, and the clinician to only see clinical data. 


These are new challenges we face, as other industries have, to bring such data together to enable integrated decision making, and a need to write back decisions and actions into information systems, not just APIs for sharing clinical data.


Coupled with this, research and the trend towards personalised medicine is putting new demands on the need to integrate multimodal data – our genomics data with imaging, IoT, and clinical data. Not only do we need this to support areas like cancer and rare diseases in decision making, but we will want it to support an acceleration of our life sciences vision. 

How are you developing the data literacy of a) your own organisation and b) your clients? 
I would say that my main efforts over the years have been to work on supporting professionalism. Creating environments where people can learn from one another, share best practice, keep up to date, challenge each other and create new solutions to complex challenges that arise around data, its use and its governance. 


How are you tackling the challenge of attracting, nurturing and retaining talent? 
Historically the health and social care sector has been seen to be backward in its use of technology and, therefore, not seen as the first place for the brightest engineers and data scientists. That’s increasingly not true. We are using the same bleeding edge technology as the financial, industrial, and military sectors. Obviously, you can earn more money in private equity than you can in healthcare, but that is true for all our smartest doctors, nurses and managers. I didn’t go to medical school to get rich, I do what I do to try to make a difference. The challenge for health and care technology is to persuade the next generation of the best and brightest to believe what I believe, that by working in healthcare technology and informatics you can save lives and improve society. 

Justin Whatling
has been included in:
  • 100 Enablers 2023 (EMEA)