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Feature: harnessing the momentum within health tech post-Covid-19

Over the past few weeks, we have heard from many in healthcare who have expressed their observations of the rapid adoption of technology in response to combatting the challenges from Covid-19 and supporting the healthcare system deliver essential new ways of working.

In this feature, sponsored by Highland Marketing, we have asked for the thoughts of health tech providers whether healthcare has had its online banking moment, to understand some considerations and to hear from the industry if the momentum can be sustained.

Starting the commentary is Richard Strong, Vice President and MD, EMEA, Allscripts:

“I don’t think that healthcare has had its online banking moment. I think it might have had its telephone banking moment.

“During the coronavirus outbreak, we have seen a shift to remote working and virtual consultations, which is positive; but it only gets healthcare to the point at which individuals can speak to somebody on the phone, instead of going into a hospital or a GP practice to see them.

“The online banking moment comes when individuals can do everything online, and have those actions logged digitally, so that information can be shared with more people or with apps that they control themselves. Healthcare isn’t there yet, but I hope it’s on the journey.

“The reasons that we have seen progress during the outbreak is that barriers have come down. People have looked for a broad consensus on which to move forward, instead of waiting for agreement on every detail.

“Banking has moved beyond online banking. Open banking standards mean that I can not only look at my statement online, but open up an app on my phone and use my ‘contacts’ to pay somebody. Clinicians and patients will see real value when we have that level of engagement with information in healthcare.”

Harri Mistry, Systems Development & Application Services Lead, Arden & GEM CSU adds:

“One of the defining features of this pandemic is the pace with which digital tools have been adopted, not just in the NHS but across all industries.

“But forced change doesn’t always lead to long term acceptance of new ways of working, particularly if support isn’t in place to help people understand how to make best use of the tools available to them.”

Kenny Bloxham, Managing Director, Healthcare Communications highlights some important considerations:

“The NHS reacted quickly to the unexpected events of COVID-19, making a once in a generation shift.

“Leaders now need to embrace the pace of change and the advantages of the improved decision-making process in getting innovative solutions to communicate with patients, over the line.

“This is an opportunity to lead the NHS into its next phase – in recent weeks, patients have embraced digital innovation and the NHS should continue to build on this.

“However, going forward, the virtual by default model will also need to be scalable, reliable and inclusive.

“When deploying patient facing digital communication tools, organisations will need to consider all patients in the solution design, digitally enabled, or not.”

Patient facing digital tools as Kenny eludes to, increases the ability for patients to be able to self-manage their care in a way not seen prior to the era of digitality.

In the current crisis, downloads of digital healthcare tools have seen an exponential increase as people seek out further information regarding Covid-19.

ORCHA highlight the significant demand for health care apps which has resulted in recommendations of certain apps by healthcare professionals as well as services introducing app libraries:

“We have seen the number of people visiting these libraries increase dramatically.

“In just one week, we saw an increase of 182.5% in app downloads from our App Libraries, and a 6,500% increase in app recommendations from health and care professionals.

“We have also seen a significant rise in the number of health and care services introducing an App Library.

“As the NHS, social care organisations, and local authorities, continue responding to the COVID-19 crisis, we are seeing a growing number introducing bespoke App Libraries to help their patients, professionals and service users find the best health and care apps at this time.

“In the first few weeks we worked with app developers to further evaluate apps and build a dedicated COVID-19 App Library, free to use for all.

“Developers have been quick to create digital solutions to help people manage their health and, potentially, slow the spread of COVID-19.”

“However, we found the quality of COVID-19 specific apps to be mixed.

“Whilst some apps performed particularly well, most apps hovered just above or below ORCHA’s quality threshold, and some apps achieved dangerously low scores.”

Innovation of technology aside, the implementation, usage and roll out of such tech and systems would not be possible without healthcare teams wielding it and recommending it to patients.

Jane Randall, MD for the UK and Ireland, Sectra highlights the importance of understanding lessons learned to keep momentum longer term:

“New agile approaches to working during the current crisis both within the NHS and supplier communities have the potential to enable significant cost savings for the health service into the longer term.

“Many headlines have focussed on rapid technology deployments to sites like the new Nightingale hospitals, that have been essential to allow the NHS to respond to the unprecedent challenge.

“Whether it’s around new approaches to issues like governance or deployment, there will undoubtedly be a great many lessons that will be drawn from these projects for the future adoption of technology in the health service.

“Site visits and deployments themselves are now being conducted remotely. Whilst some aspects of face to face work cannot be replaced, virtual meetings have been a contributing factor in allowing deployments to move forward at pace.

“I’ve personally been struck by positive behaviours that have emerged, where people are motivated with an open mindedness to find solutions and not problems.”

Gary Birks, General Manager, UK & Ireland, Orion Health, said:

“Coping with Covid-19 has presented huge clinical and organisational challenges for healthcare and this has forced the pace of change within health technology, bringing new impetus for technological innovation and creativity that will undoubtedly continue in the aftermath of Covid-19.

“We have seen, for example, the successful and accelerated development of shared care records, incorporating pragmatic changes to reflect the new working environment. This has involved providing access to new groups of frontline workers and the independent sector; making records available to clinicians for remote and virtual secondary care consultation; and brought the addition of new functions such as capturing next of kin data to better communicate with families unable to visit wards.

“Such changes have been made under extraordinary and enforced circumstances but they are part of a momentum that has built up within the health technology sector that should not be allowed to lose momentum once we start to emerge from the crisis.

“This particularly applies too to remote care and the benefits it can have on alleviating demand in the system. The indications are that we are in a new culture of agility and it is very encouraging to see the recent NHSX tender process for remote patient monitoring.

“Although the NHSX drive is aimed mainly at supporting patients with Covid-19, once the technology is established and the clear benefits emerge, the strong likelihood is that it will be rolled out to other chronic conditions. Health organisations will adopt an agile approach, refining and expanding as they roll out the evolving technology to successive patient cohorts.

Marc Warburton, CEO, InfoFlex discusses where some projects have slowed, some accelerated:

“Some of our projects have slowed down but others, such as remote monitoring ones have been recognised as high priority.

“As a result of COVID-19 the importance of remotely monitoring patients is being promoted as a way forward for the NHS to reduce unnecessary outpatient appointments.

“Having to hold virtual clinics, MDTs and other meetings is showing that these processes can be changed and has begun to remove the barriers to these new ways of providing healthcare.”

Paul Bensley, CEO, X-on highlights the change in primary care:

“The Covid-19 crisis has brought a dramatic change to the way primary care is delivered, which will have a lasting impact.

“As 95% of GP practices are now implementing, procuring or already live with online consultation systems supporting remote assessment, day-to-day general practice is now almost unrecognisable from just a few months ago. The sad irony is that it has taken an event as monumental as a pandemic to drive through in weeks what many practices have been trying to deliver in terms of flexible, remote triaging for several years.

“Some GPs are highly knowledgeable in their use of technology and were well prepared for the outbreak, having been pioneers of cloud-based digital telephony, for some time. Other practices have struggled and are catching up. The pandemic has underlined the benefits of technology and continued momentum will drive less sophisticated practices towards an “omnichannel” approach incorporating telephony, video, videoconferencing and instant messaging and providing access to clinical records.

“Aside from ensuring universal basic provision, there is still a big task to ensure better integration between standard services from IT providers to avoid a patchwork of applications that busy clinicians need to switch between.

Lynette Ousby, General Manager, Alcidion comments on the importance of the workforce driving change and chief information officers taking the lead on decisions:

“There has been a lot more forgiveness for being innovative and brave as the NHS has worked to respond quickly and effectively to the coronavirus crisis. People are happy to relinquish how they worked before. They have greater confidence in adopting different technologies, some of which have helped services to reshape and reconfigure in a matter of weeks.

“For us the conversation has certainly changed. People are much less fixated on their electronic patient record system, and more focussed on extracting more clinical value from their IT – often by investing in intelligent health tech that they can overlay in order to automate processes, alleviate burdens and provide a means for clinicians to act quickly, safely and decisively.

“It is the clinical workforce that is driving technology investments like never before. In the past few months we have been having more and more conversations with chief clinical information officers who are taking the lead on decisions and on expectations. This has seen a noticeable shift in specification and requirements – the conversation is no longer about return on investment, it is about routes to funding to achieve required clinical outcomes, with the patient at the heart of everything.”

Steve Wightman, Healthcare Managing Director, Servelec adds:

“The way the NHS has responded to the COVID-19 crisis has been nothing short of incredible and that is largely down to the unselfish dedication of frontline workers. The key role that digital leaders have played in supporting the NHS in its time of need has very much been one of saying ‘yes’ when called upon and making the impossible possible. If the trust has needed it, health tech providers have delivered.

“We recently rolled out a mobile solution in six days to Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust, which allows their district nurses to work from home, as they no longer need to return to base to complete notes once a home visit has been done. Another example was our work with the Emergency Department at Queen Alexandra Hospital in Portsmouth. They urgently needed our support in redesigning their tracking lists, and we responded by designing and implementing a solution in under 48 hours.

“What will be essential to keep this momentum going past the peak of the virus, is changing the culture around data sharing and driving joined-up care across health and social care. A collaborative approach to digital care in the sector will mean that archaic practices, such as complicated tenders and completely siloed systems, can once and for all be put to bed.”

Concluding part one of the feature, Jacob Haddad CEO & Co-Founder accuRx describes how technology is irrelevant without hardworking and quality frontline staff:

“The real champions have been frontline staff, adopting new technologies rapidly and without any training, and innovating in how they use them.

“Video consultations have had a lot of attention right from the Secretary of State down.

“The communication and tech challenges currently faced aren’t new, but they’ve been significantly heightened by COVID-19.

“I’m sure some tech will be continued after the pandemic, and some will fade out. But providing frontline staff have a choice of what they use, that’s a great way to sift out useful technology from clunky systems forced upon them.”