Fighting Heart and Circulatory Diseases through Digital Transformation

Eighteen million people globally die each year of heart and circulatory diseases. That staggering number accounts for a third of all deaths. The British Heart Foundation (BHF) leads the charge against these diseases by embracing innovation and leading the industry’s digital transformation.

A Digital Foundation Built for Innovation

Although we’re a charity, we have to work as a business.

Ursula Dolton, Director of IT and Business Change, British Heart Foundation

“We want to provide our 4,000 employees and 25,000 volunteers with a great experience, enabling them to work seamlessly no matter where they are. That’s why we’re investing in digital advancements with VMware,” says Dolton.

The BHF is overhauling its IT infrastructure, building a digital foundation fit for the future.

Since the British Heart Foundation was established, the annual number of deaths from heart and circulatory diseases in the UK has fallen by more than half.

It is taking a software-defined approach, to make IT more reliable, responsive and secure. It’s the start of the BHF’s journey to a multi-cloud model. “Eventually we will be able to move our applications and workloads from our data centre to public clouds and back again,” says Mary O’Callaghan, Head of Business IT.

O’Callaghan says: “We believe in a collaborative approach to innovation. We work closely with universities, medical organisations, technology experts and charities all around the world. Our digital platform is improving how we collaborate with our many partners. We have the opportunity to access knowledge and resources much more easily and securely now,” says O’Callaghan.

Dolton and O’Callaghan are both immensely proud of the BHF and all that it has achieved. “It’s such a great place to work,” says Dolton. “As someone who’s passionate about tech, I get really excited by the digital programmes we spearhead internally and by the amazing tech-related research we’re funding.  And on top of that, it’s all for a great cause. Everyone is fully committed to deliver on our core mission to beat heartbreak forever.”

Embracing Emerging Technology for the Next Big Breakthrough

The BHF finances research that pioneers breakthroughs in fighting heart and circulatory diseases. For over 55 years, its research has led to the development of new drugs, treatment guidelines, policy changes and scientific resources. As the BHF looks to the future, emerging technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) play a vital role.

“From scanning blood vessels in the eye to teaching algorithms to predict cardiovascular risk, there’s certainly a lot to be excited about,” Dolton says.

There’s also great potential in the meshing of new technologies like big data and machine learning. Here, we can significantly accelerate both the speed and accuracy of heart and circulatory diagnoses.

Ursula Dolton, British Heart Foundation

For example, the BHF funds research combining AI and data analytics to predict outcomes in heart failure. The researchers use machine learning to interpret thousands of heart scans to build a three-dimensional model. The system will learn to recognise the earliest signs of heart failure, and improve from experience without being explicitly programmed.

“We hope that AI will help accurately predict what is likely to happen to people with heart failure. That way we can ensure the patient gets the best treatment possible,” explains Dolton.

Ever ambitious, the BHF has launched the global Big Beat Challenge.

The program encourages researchers and organisations to:

  • Think differently
  • Leverage the latest technologies
  • Find the elusive big breakthrough.

“This is a £30 million global challenge,” O’Callaghan says. “We’re asking teams to bring together expertise and technologies from a number of fields—it could be almost anything, such as AI, cardiology or genome editing or something else. Whatever they do, they must think big.”

Since the British Heart Foundation was established, the annual number of deaths from heart and circulatory diseases in the UK has fallen by more than half. But despite this enormous progress, heart and circulatory diseases are still the number one cause of death globally. Thankfully, organisations like the BHF embrace digital transformation and innovation to help patients and their families live happier, longer lives.