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GIANT 3: how communications and patient involvement could save the NHS



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In part 3 of our Giant series, we talk to two more of the 230 businesses working with DigitalHealth.London to develop their businesses via the Accelerator programme

The app medCrowd is designed to allow health and care teams to take advantage of commonly available modern comms tech so they can give the best possible and most efficient treatment and care. medCrowd was one of the first wave of successful start-ups to be taken on by the DigitalHealth.London Accelerator and has benefitted hugely from the programme. We became aware – through our work at medDigital with frontline clinicians – that WhatsApp and other consumer messaging apps were being used to share clinical information in breach of NHS rules and EU data protection rules,’ reveals Dr Felix Jackson, CEO of medDigital and medCrowd. ‘This was happening because the NHS has not updated the official communication systems that doctors and other healthcare professionals use to contact each other while at work for decades. Now, numerous media reports have confirmed that clinical teams are using WhatsApp and Snapchat to seek advice from colleagues about patient care and also to arrange their work rotas and even allocate emergency resources.

‘We developed medCrowd in response to this clear need for a compliant messenger for health and care teams. It allows teams all over the world to work together more effectively and give the best care. Unlike consumer messaging technologies, like WhatsApp, medCrowd is compliant for confidential health and care information and can sync with patient record systems so vital conversations and info is not lost.’

Getting the right guidance

‘DH.L has given medCrowd unprecedented access to the key people who are doing digital health in London, advice on how to work within the complex environment of the NHS and the exposure we needed at key events around the capital,’ he continues. ‘The NHS can be very slow at making decisions and is confused about how certain decisions are made. Also, developing compliant cutting-edge technology isn’t easy!

‘Digital health tech is already providing essential technologies that can ensure our ageing population, which lives with many chronic diseases, is provided with the health care they need without continuously escalating costs. Still, many of the most disadvantaged people have no internet access or smartphones so the digital health revolution might pass them by unless we make specific efforts to support them.

‘During the last 12 months, the generous support from Tara Donnelly and her team at the Health Innovation Network in South London has given us an unprecedented access to the key people who are doing digital health in London, advice on how to work within the complex environment of the NHS, and the exposure we needed at key events around the capital.’

The state we’re in

Dr Jackson is more upbeat about British healthcare than many others. ‘I’m hoping the health system isn’t disrupted as in the UK as I think it is really very good. People give the NHS a hard time but actually it is a very efficient system that delivers great care to the vast majority of people most of the time. Therefore, I’d like to see it evolved

Dr Felix Jackson

and  augmented by these new technologies – keeping the best bits of the existing system (eg the fantastic health and care workers we have in the UK). More and more patients are taking control of their own health and wellness and driving the development and adoption of advanced technologies that enable them to manage it more effectively themselves. These technologies will be optimised, simplified and then specific solutions will be found for wider populations and specific disadvantaged ones.’

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Speeding up the service

‘I was raised in Australia where skin cancer is prevalent,’ explains Neil Daly, CEO, Skin Analytics. ‘As a kid, I wasn’t allowed out to go out and play without a hat and sunscreen on, so I’ve always been aware of the problem. I’ve seen friends die from cancer, so I was keen to develop an idea that popped into my head to help more people survive cancer.

‘Basically, we’ve built a dermatologist quality screening tool using AI. Which means we can give GPs a really simple, low cost and quick tool to use in primary care to find the right people to refer into the hospitals. That’s important as the NHS struggles under increasing demand to meet the two-week wait targets. We will reduce the cost to find skin cancer and improve waiting times for dermatology appointments.

Neil Daly

‘We’ve now got several conversations going with NHS organisations to set up health economic studies or deliver dermatology triage services. It’s early days as we’ve only been on the DHL programme for a few months but there are some great opportunities coming out already.

‘There are always challenges around any large organisation and the NHS is LARGE. There are so many people involved in every decision it can take forever to get agreement for even simple initiatives but the culture is changing fast and it is getting easier, I think.’

Scanning yourself at home

This is only the start, though. Skin Analytics have big ambitions. ‘Ultimately we want to be able to show that population-based screening is a cost effective way to identify melanoma earlier. We want everyone in the UK to have access to our service in their own homes, where they can do an annual skin check and we can identify any suspicious lesions. It would be much like people use dentistry but in your own home. If we can do that, we can be proactively maintaining health rather than reactively treating it.’

How can we change the way healthcare is perceived and delivered? ‘It’s getting people’s buy-in to take responsibility back for themselves,’ Neil believes. ‘There has always been an asymmetry in information between health professionals and patients but the complexity of medicine has increased dramatically recently and so has this information gap. When people aren’t engaged and treated as part of the process, they’ll lose interest and I think there has been real push to put patients at the centre of care for a while now. This will start to pay dividends as patients have better access to their information through digital technologies.’

About the author

Tina Woods is founder of Collider Health, a health innovation catalyst that works with organisations to think and do differently and transform health with meaningful impact. She is also the founder of ColliderSCIENCE, a social enterprise to inspire young people in science and engineering and equip them with the skills to create their future.

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