In part 2 of our GIANT series, we talk to two of the 230 businesses working with DigitalHealth.London to develop their businesses via the Accelerator programme
Chris Robson, CEO of Propagator (developers of the Living With series) is glad to be involved with the Accelerator this year. ‘DigitalHealth.London is a phenomenal training camp for SMEs in the healthtech space. I love it.’ It’s a great match. The Living With apps are a perfect example of the patient-founder imperative. The driving force behind Living With is the desire to improve the quality of life for people living with long-term conditions while also tackling the increasingly unsustainable cost of treatment. ‘Our experience with long-term conditions comes from first-hand knowledge, Chris explains. ‘I’ve lived with ulcerative colitis for 30 years and have direct experience of the terrifying unpredictability of autoimmune conditions. After I was hospitalised with Guillain-Barré syndrome and learned to walk again, I began to question how I could help prevent others from experiencing the same rollercoaster of uncertainty. One moment, stable and in remission, and the next in a downwards spiral of pain.
‘Another of our co-founders, Jonathan Waywell, had seen the devastating effects of pelvic problems on new mothers and started to think about how digital could be used to make a difference to their lives. After all, urinary incontinence affects an estimated 14 million adults in the UK and half of all women will have some degree of pelvic organ prolapse in their lifetime. We had worked together before building Syzygy, a digital agency, and together we started planning a solution, bringing in Wyc Slingsby to provide further technical expertise. The result was threefold:
And the results so far are good. ‘Over 90 per cent of Squeezy users increase the frequency of their pelvic floor muscle exercises, therefore helping address the key challenge of PFME programme adherence in patients. Living With Pelvic Health should reduce the length and number of follow up appointments and so deliver cost savings and reductions in waiting lists, as well as driving better patient outcomes and less surgery. Living With Rheumatoid Arthritis should help identify the early warning signs of flare-ups and optimise clinical resourcing against the patients who need it most.’
How does he envisage digital changing the NHS? ‘Digital is and will have a massive impact on the NHS. In time the NHS will need to guide hospitals more clearly to the most effective digital innovations and actually prune the number of solutions that it recommends. But no healthtech business anywhere in the world has successfully got patients with longterm conditions to adhere to an app for years. This is a massive challenge and requires companies like ours to think differently about engagement and how it needs to work.’
Fellow Accelerator participants, Insource, are also benefitting from working with agrees with DigitalHealth.London. ‘The DH.L Accelerator programme enjoys a unique reach and level of engagement, and is well regarded as a leading component in the digital transformation of the NHS, with a specific focus on London,’ says Jenny James, Director of Corporate Strategy. ‘This type of network is not only essential to technology companies such as us but also to the wider sector and the teams within the NHS itself, helping them realise the art of the possible within the impossible.’
Founded in 1994, Insource started as a consultancy helping organisations with a variety of projects. Within the NHS they identified many trusts that had highly manual, resource-intensive processes that needed automation. Over the years, with their NHS partner trusts, they developed a suite of data management solutions that has helped leading NHS organisations to drive their digital strategies forward. The company’s solutions provide a single trusted source of strategic information that is accurate, consistent, timely, validated and trusted. This enables operational and statutory reporting, freeing up resources and time, and getting the insight into the data to improve services and patient care. Basically, doing more with less to increase efficiency.
‘We already work with 15 trusts across the UK, all of whom benefit from our solutions in reducing manual effort, improving staff morale and driving the digital agenda,’ Jenny continues. ‘The DH.L accelerator is an excellent way of helping SMEs like us to navigate our way around the complexities of the NHS and double check that our messaging is relevant to our target audience. There are also lots of opportunities to network and to learn; whether it’s about how procurement works in the NHS, what data sources are publicly available and where to find them or how to start a research project, to name but a few. In addition, we’re proud to have been invited to present and have been panellists at several events, which has greatly raised awareness in the London community. With over 120 applications to the accelerator, it’s also a great door opener to be able to say that we’ve been ‘pre-vetted’ by a panel of specialists to ensure that our digital solution is relevant, valuable and addresses real challenges faced in the NHS today.’
Navigating the NHS and standing out from the crowd have proved a challenge, though. ‘When there are so many sexy apps coming out all the time, it’s difficult to be heard amongst all the noise,’ says Jenny. ‘Our solution helps reduce administration and automate processes – that’s not sexy per se, but is incredibly important to patient safety and experience. Working with the DH.L Accelerator is giving us the insider view into the purchasing cycles that will help accelerate adoption. We’ve previously struggled to get our message across to the right people in our target audience. Our DH.L navigator has been invaluable in helping us hone our messaging so that it resonates with our buyer personas.’
The digital transformation currently taking place within the NHS is being driven largely by the need to meet unprecedented demand on ever-tighter budgets and dwindling resources. How can Insource change that? ‘There’s currently a lot of manual work taking place in the administration of the health service that just isn’t necessary in the modern world,’ Jenny believes. ‘There’s a real need for the NHS to automate processes, practices and technology to deliver greater sustainability throughout the ecosystem. However, little value is seen in innovating the back office – which of course supports everything that happens at the front. Consequently, one of the biggest barriers is the health service’s reticence to change, a sense that “we’ve always done it this way, so we’ll continue to do so”, combined with a fear and misunderstanding of what’s involved.
‘Second to this is its culture of investing in short-term fixes, rather than investing for the future. As each NHS trust is autonomous, they tend to think of themselves as unique, believing no single technology or solution could ever meet their particular needs. As a result, they will typically do what they can with the resources they have internally. The opportunity is to save huge amounts of money through automation of manual tasks delivering efficiency gains. This results in staff being able to spend more time where they make the most difference in patient care and less on administrative tasks.’
Jenny believes there are three main drivers that will shape the future of healthcare. ‘Firstly, connectivity. Every trust has a myriad of different systems and processes in place, which may or may not connect to each other today. Add to that the fact that every trust has a different set of systems, resulting in disjointed data. New health apps are being developed every day and connecting the patients, their apps, the clinicians will be crucial in future. Consequently, the moves toward standardisation, such as FIHR, are essential to the enablement of patient self- management.
‘Secondly, there’s security. This will always be in the forefront of everyone in the self-management journey. Ensuring protection for our citizens from incidents like the Wannacry attack is paramount. This is certainly the biggest challenge in implementing self-management going forward.
‘And thirdly, we need a system-wide view of a patient. There are already moves afoot to bring together a holistic view of the individual citizen – across primary care, secondary care, social and even tax affairs. With the recent advent of the Accountable Care Systems, NHS England recognises the importance of such a view. The challenge we face is, once again, the connectivity, alongside limited resources and the onset of winter and the inevitable resource constraints that brings.
‘Data is one of healthcare’s most valuable assets, and automating its management is fundamental to driving through transformational change. A holistic strategy will underpin establishing the best vehicle of care for each individual citizen rather than treating them in silos such as acute, mental health, or community care. Standardised information and collaboration allows intelligent questions to be asked about the entire patient journey, throughout every aspect of healthcare. However, the biggest single constraint in the system is the Government.
‘Transformation will never happen quickly enough – we always want to do it quicker. The general pace of change in healthcare right now is a little bit too slow. Because every provider is autonomous, and believes themselves to be unique, it will be a long and painful journey for change to be adopted consistently across the country. But it must be done to maximise patient care.’
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