In the first of a three-part series in response to new research carried out into the use of #NHS technology,  I’ll take a little dig into the healthcare technology market, asking what is happening now, especially with the backdrop of the Covid-19, what might be some barriers to entry and what does the future hold?

In the second and third installments, I will explore the home monitoring market and try to come to some conclusions as to what healthcare tech means for the future of healthcare property.

In answer to the question, does a healthy future involve more tech, it seems so. However, it isn’t as simple as that and depends on what part of the NHS we are referring to.

The current epidemic is rapidly increasing  our use of technology in a way that we perhaps regularly associate with other aspects of our daily lives – a smart watch, online banking, online shopping, online fitness, the list goes on and on…

The article here focuses on NHS technology rather than private sector B2C (Business to Consumer) services specifically (the B2C focus to date has been on private GP consultations), however many of the online platforms referenced in the article are available through capacity and innovation delivered through the private sector.

Patients have been driving the demand for greater accessibility and an increase in private healthcare tech offering flexibility and convenience – whether it’s a GP consultation or arranging a prescription delivery. The latter has been particularly important for the elderly or those in isolation. And, as high street pharmacies struggle in the current retail market, we may see a further increase in demand to use these services as physical access to some services reduces. But the focus to date is on primary care.

So what does the future hold for technology and UK healthcare?

The primary goal for healthcare tech providers (also known as online providers) wishing to support traditional NHS healthcare providers (offline providers) should be in driving efficiencies across the NHS – whether that be acute, primary, secondary or tertiary care. Online providers are able to provide a platform at scale and so the market has already seen an increase in the number of offline and online partnerships being created pre-pandemic.

Kayleigh Hartigan, Chief Commercial Officer from Zava, which provides an online platform for medical consultation, noted in a recent online webinar that the UK is probably the most-developed compared to France and Germany when it comes to the tech offering and commercial models of delivery, which is allowing more niche online providers to grow. For example, Push Doctor, a digital health provider, and Medinet, an NHS insourcing specialist, recently joined forces to support six NHS Trusts in providing at-home patient access to hospital consultants during the pandemic both for coronavirus and everyday health issues.

This is particularly helpful for patients as their consultant may have been redeployed elsewhere in the NHS. It is suggested that this area of technology will grow significantly – especially as there will be pent up demand with those patients not having their regular annual check-ups with nurses and GPs linked to chronic conditions or monitoring of the development of genetic conditions.

It will also be crucial to see how healthcare tech could develop to assist with the backlog in elective surgeries which were postponed following the outbreak of the virus and implementation of lockdown.

Barriers preventing progress?

Regulation can often be seen as a barrier, however, Mindy Daeschner of Daeschner Consultingsets out that regulation is being loosened – in Germany, digital healthcare consultations were previously set to total no more than 10% of total consultants, however this restriction has been removed; in France, there has been much deregulation and in the UK, private healthcare tech providers are seeing tenders come out more regularly.

Some private sector commentators note that there has been enormous change recently in the relationship between digital solution providers and the NHS, referencing NHS X in particular as an added layer to disrupt the status quo and help smaller providers accelerate their route to market. NHS X is the most recent addition to the NHS family and should currently be engaging with the relevant parties on a tech plan for health and care through to Summer 2020.

What role will technology play?

In summary, online healthcare providers will be successful in developing tech and collaborating with the NHS if they are mindful of the fact that tech solutions are different for different groups - whether that group is a type of patient or type of offline healthcare provider i.e. GPs, pharmacists, dentists, consultants and so on. Furthermore, on the other side of the table, policy and regulation are also important because they can both either support or inhibit innovation.

I personally have not used any form of online consultation but I can certainly see the benefits. Just being able to book a GP appointment online two or three years ago was revolutionary. Look how far we have come!

Keep an eye out for part 2 of this series, where we discuss the home monitoring market.