What is Healthcare Science?
Healthcare Scientists help diagnosis diseases, monitor patients, advise on treatments and also provide treatments and devices. They may also invent, develop and evaluate new technologies and techniques. As scientific understanding and technologies advance, the work of Healthcare Scientists is constantly evolving and they are at the forefront of innovation in healthcare.
In the NHS in Scotland, there are around 6000 people working in Healthcare Science. They represent only around 5% of the total workforce but perform about 60 million laboratory tests and 730,000 physiological measurements every year and manage medical equipment with a replacement value of more than £960 million.
Healthcare scientists work in one of three different strands:
- Life sciences: Mainly laboratory based, but supporting healthcare in the community with Point of Care Testing. Examples include investigating diseases through blood and tissue analysis, determining genetic make ups and researching new scientific treatments for cancer and other diseases.
- Physiological sciences: Work directly with patients, such as in audiology, carrying out a multitude of diagnostic patient tests. Examples include electrocardiograms (ECGs) to check how the heart is working, tests to assess the brain and peripheral nervous system function, and helping patients with sleep problems.
- Physical sciences and biomedical engineering: Maintain and manage medical equipment (such as MRI and ultrasound scanners, x-ray machines, infusion pumps and patient monitors), provide diagnostic and treatment planning expertise and design artificial limbs and body parts (e.g. for facial reconstruction). In some areas, such as rehabilitation engineering (as here at the SMART Centre) they assess patients and prescribe assistive technology equipment.
Healthcare Science at the SMART Centre
We have two groups of Healthcare Scientists here at the SMART Centre:
- Clinical Scientists (also known as Bioengineers) conduct assessments, prescribe and design bespoke medical devices for several services including the Electronic Assistive Technology (EAT) Service, the Special Needs Design Service and the Wheelchair and Seating Service. They also provided scientific support, including risk assessment, for other SMART Services, such as the Gait Lab, and are involved in healthcare improvement projects and conduct research and development.
- Healthcare Technologists (also known as Technicians) assemble, manufacture and repair equipment for all the SMART Services that provide medical devices, including Prosthetics and Orthotics.
The Year in Focus
Healthcare Scientists in Scotland and at the SMART Centre have been involved in a multitude of activities over the past year; just a few of these are highlighted here.
To mark Healthcare Science Week 2015, NHS Lothian’s Healthcare Scientists set up a stall in the mall at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh to demonstrate their work and educate the public and other staff about healthcare science. These included Michael Dolan and Jennifer Walsh-O’Donovan from the SMART Centre.
In May 2015, the Scottish Healthcare Science National Delivery Plan 2015-2016 was launched by the Cabinet Secretary for Health, Wellbeing and Sport. It sets out five improvement programmes designed to deliver high-quality, sustainable health and care services. One the pictures (page 10) used to illustrate the work of healthcare scientists shows the control circuitry for the electrically powered arm prosthesis invented at the SMART Centre. Progress on the plan and other information on Healthcare Science in Scotland can be found on the dedicated Knowledge Network page.
In September 2016, following a competition launched at the Annual Scottish Healthcare Science Event, an identity for healthcare science was chosen for Scotland. Four designs were shortlisted and 374 people participated in the final selection process. The winning design was by Duncan Blyth from NHS Lothian and has now been adopted for use throughout Scotland.
At the Posture & Mobility Group’s Conference in July, Susan Hillman & James Hollington’s poster on ‘A Quantitative Outcome Measure for Seating Posture Interventions’ won the prize for best poster.
In November 2015, Jennifer Walsh-O’Donovan won the Women In Science and Engineering (WISE) Hero Award and was interviewed about her work on BBC Radio 4’s Women’s Hour.
Want to find out more?
You can discover more about Healthcare Science and Healthcare Scientists by checking out the following websites and documents.
NHS Careers have information on the different roles undertaken by healthcare scientists on its website.
Many Healthcare Scientists (including the SMART Centre’s Bioengineers) are regulated by the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC). The HCPC have a register of professionals that meet their standards for training, professional skills and behaviour that can be checked by members of the public. They also regulate paramedics, radiographers, therapists and many other professions.
In Scotland, the training and education of healthcare scientists is supported by NHS Education Scotland, which aims to ensure that there is a sustainable, fit-for-purpose NHS workforce, and there is a section of their website devoted to Healthcare Science.
The Institute of Physics and Engineering in Medicine has produced a series of ‘Making a Difference’ films on careers in physics and engineering careers in medicine and leaflets and posters on the ’The Science and the Scientists’.
Return to Top of Page.
Written & compiled by Dr Michael J Dolan, SMART Centre, NHS Lothian, Edinburgh.
First published 11th March 2016. Last updated 13th March 2016. Version 1.0.