Establishing the NHS in 1948 was, in modern speak, a paradigm shift. Much has changed since 1948 however, not least the ageing population: the number of people aged over 65 is predicted to hit 10.8m by 2032, a 39 per cent sector rise since 2012, according to the King’s Fund. With the Government hotly pursuing £20bn of savings from a creaking NHS, it is easy to feel the odds are stacked against its future but I believe the frontiers of health are full of opportunity.
We are on the verge of a new revolution and by ‘on the verge’ I mean in the next few years. We are seeing intent from healthcare organisations in the public sector and we are seeing the right level of funding and intent from the private sector so, when the two finally do come together and align, I think there is every chance of health tech having a huge impact beyond the realms of what we currently believe today.
So how does this stack up?
The health tech market is now worth £55bn and is predicted to grow beyond £220bn by 2020. There has been an influx of funding for the startup community and finally, a growing realisation from healthcare organisations about the potential to improve patient outcomes – but this funding must be a long-term investment.
We are getting older and living longer and the knock on effect is that the patient base is increasing rapidly. This means there is an increased need for more care in the home which in turn is driving mobile health tech such as tele and remote healthcare to the point that it now accounts for 40 per cent of the overall healthcare tech market.
The use of lifestyle wearables and apps have paved the way, both in technical proof points and public conscience, to position technology as a legitimate and powerful element of the nation’s healthcare. We now need institutions, from hospitals to insurers, to adopt more technology so it progresses from apps and everyday wearables.
The main problem is that we have a legacy system that is not set up to deal with the numbers of patients coming through. The GP surgery can be a bottleneck, so the new tech being developed that can speed up the process or eliminate the need for people to visit the surgery entirely is where it will prove its weight in gold. Giving clinicians access to patients’ data by making people’s Electronic Health Records available could lead to better, faster treatment and even cut out the need for a visit to the GP altogether.
The Government’s Accelerated Access Review, launched in 2014 to speed up access to innovative drugs, devices, diagnostics and digital products for the NHS, was a good step forward but needs a huge and lasting commitment from the NHS and the Government.
The Department of Health also needs to be nimble enough to make sure the juggernaut of the NHS – with its flow of one million patients every 36 hours – can harness technology quickly to make a difference for patients and provide its own innovators room to pursue ideas – whether in the private sector or within the NHS.
The NHS itself is facing employer branding challenges: why do you want to innovate at the NHS? Is it even possible? The Accelerated Access programmes show intent but the government needs to develop that further and persuade more talent to stay in or join the NHS.
The healthcare innovation and delivery landscape is at its most fertile but companies are still speeding to market without considering a communications strategy. It is critical to the success of any business, so new companies should look for PR agency support many months before coming to market, to build advocacy for their product and/or technology.
They need to think who will stand up beside them and vouch for their business, not just investors but industry influencers such as analysts and academics who can say this is a tech that we believe in and help push it into public sector.
So where next? Mobile health tech is the area that’s got me particularly excited: take a look at Echo, a free repeat prescription management service already adopted by the NHS, exemplifying the rapid journey of tech ideas into service that benefit the public. We are starting to see that private sector investment is working well with what the NHS need, a timely convergence between the two. The opportunity for health tech to have an impact on patient outcomes is massive.