Health tech reflections 2021: “a year that demonstrates human resilience”

It’s December, which means it’s time for our festive features – perfect for reading with a coffee and a mince pie. Whether you celebrate the festivities, or just the holidays, this is the perfect time of year to sit back and reflect, before preparing for the year to come.

We know this year has been hugely challenging again, for anyone involved in health and health tech, so it once again seems important to reflect on the challenges and work undertaken, as well as sharing the successes and the learnings.

In this part one, you can find out industry, supplier, patient engagement and NHS opinions on the last 12 months. You can also find out our audience’s health tech predictions for the year ahead in part two, before part three shares NHS priorities for 2022. Stay tuned!

“The people I work with have shown super-human strength”

Jenny Chong, Non Executive Director at Medway NHS Foundation Trust, kicks off our retrospective with some thoughts on the people working to keep healthcare afloat: “2021 has been a year that demonstrates human resilience. The people I work with at Medway NHS Trust have shown super-human strength in pushing past the boundaries of mental and physical fatigue to continue serving our patients. Despite wave after wave of chaos during 2020, despite the fear and uncertainty of dealing with the unknown, despite the huge personal sacrifice and isolation from their loved ones, despite the bleakness at times when light does not seem forthcoming at the never-ending tunnel – our staff have taught me that we will not be beaten down, we summon the energy to carry on.”

Martin Bell, Director of The Martin Bell Partnership, similarly gave pause to think about NHS staff and patients, noting: “Personally, and professionally, there were many positives to 2021. And from an industry perspective, we continued to see the ‘Rise of Health Tech’ (and perhaps some of the limitations).

“However, for me 2021 will forever be remembered for the many who died in the pandemic, whether directly because of COVID-19 or indirectly with the knock on consequences…and despite everything thrown at them, all the NHS and care staff, those in the digital space included and the suppliers supporting them, striving on and delivering the vital health and care services needed. Our thanks should be to them.”

Vijay Magon, Director of CCube Solutions shared his thanks and appreciation for healthcare staff, as well as his own, adding: “All our staff continued working from home providing support services to NHS trusts and health boards and we also deployed our solutions at two new sites. We saw significant rise in adoption of electronic medical records – access and use of digital data held in our EDRM solutions in widespread use in the NHS, as the amazing NHS staff relentlessly continued delivering care services. Digital health records do help to reduce face-to-face contact to protect patients and staff, minimise the risk of COVID-19 infection, and provide practitioners with the ability to access patient information anywhere without compromising the integrity of care provided.”

On personal achievements for CCube, he reflected: “2021 was an eventful year for CCube Solutions, under varying pandemic restrictions. We successfully achieved certification for four ISO standards: 9001, 14001, 27001, and 27701. In addition, we achieved accreditation for Cyber Essentials Plus (CE+) and our EDRM and eForms software passed DCB 0129 Clinical Safety Standard.”

Tom Scott, UK Commercial Director for Alcidion, was another contributor who paid tribute to the NHS, stating: “For me, any reflection on the last 12 months starts on the commitment NHS and other frontline staff continue to demonstrate during extremely pressured times. Digital adoption has been happening at the fastest rate we have ever seen. The NHS should be commended for embracing that change. Now we must maintain momentum, and ensure that digital systems put in place actually respond to real needs of clinical teams – not just the needs that health tech vendors think exist. The 2021 Data Saves Lives strategy, and in particular the separation of data and application layers can play a role here, supporting an increasing focus on modern and flexible modular EPR strategies demanded in the NHS to give more choice to the people who use technology.”

The extraordinary vaccination success has prevented many more lives from being lost, and has proven that providers across all care settings can come together at scale to achieve common objectives. It will be interesting whether this collaborative effort can be sustained as we enter the new dawn of Integrated Care Systems,” added Kenny Bloxham, Managing Director, Healthcare Communications.

From a Healthcare Communications perspective, 2021 has proven that a multi-channel, digital and non-digital patient engagement platform is critical to meeting the needs of patients, and our partner organisations. We’ve seen a resurgence in communication activity supporting backlog management and demand capacity, while ensuring patients are continually communicated with, regardless of the patient cohort,” said Kenny.

CardMedic’s Dr Rachael Grimaldi, Co-Founder and CEO, also shared that, 2021 has been such a difficult year for everyone, but despite the challenges the health service has faced we’ve seen incredible resilience and innovation as the healthcare sector and suppliers pulled together to help find ways to minimise the impact of COVID. On a personal note, the team at CardMedic and I have been supported by a host of organisations championing the development of new solutions including DIT, TheHill, Mass Challenge, Innovate UK, Inclusive Fruit, She Loves Tech,, and the NHS Clinical Entrepreneur Programme. I’d like to thank them all as well as all the NHS colleagues we work with.”

“The digital tools need to be more inclusive”

Ruby Bhatti OBE, a public contributor who supports lay views at NIHR, NHS England and at various universities, shared experiences of working across the past year, stating: “The pandemic has taken PPIE [Patient and Public Involvement and Engagement] to the next level for me, 2021 was one of the busiest years. I embraced the virtual world with open arms and I feel the support I have given virtually has had a tremendous impact in supporting research and PPI, particularly through the pandemic. 

“The access to different digital platforms allowed me to have greater impact and reach out to communities whether it was through something simple as social media WhatsApp or leading on webinars.  

“However, it also made me reflect on how hard it has been to ensure the digital world continues to place at the forefront inclusivity  and diversity. This year highlighted how communities have been excluded due to digital poverty, those living in remote villages where access to the internet has been difficult. The need to have accessibility to documents to include those with disabilities has also been difficult where it has resulted in people who are deaf or partially blind being excluded.”

Jenny Camaradou, EUPATI Patient Expert, Knowledge Exchange Fellow and Healthtech bid writer, also provided a different perspective, commenting: “This year, whilst being a part of the UK Nice Covid Expert Panel as a lay member, I learnt the delicate balance between evidence-based recommendations and need to be flexible as things evolve, as well as applying patience and gratitude more on a personal level.

“Time and space are needed to deal with the range of emotions everyone has experienced as a result of the COVID pandemic and the phenomenally difficulty this has created on workforce morale, planning and healthcare overall. Though, the possibilities for broader change with the creation of better infrastructures that evaluate technologies faster, that can focus on efficacy/impact and cost effectiveness and hybrid trials which reduce patient burden through the adoption or more flexible practices, are perhaps some of the good things that come out the pandemic.”

While, Paul Bensley, Chief Executive of X-on, focused on primary care and its relationship with technology, and said: “The vigorous national debate we have witnessed during the pandemic about the future delivery of primary care will continue in 2022. Patient expectations about the care they can expect from their GP practice are set high, but with the shortfall in GP numbers, and the changing balance between primary and secondary care given the move to population health management, technology is going to play an even more important role in driving delivery change. Technology – and cloud supported communications such as provided by X-on – will develop to better signpost and manage new pathways for patients to get care and support.”

Richard Wyatt-Haines, Director of HCI Digital, added that it had been, “A year of enormous progress. More and more sites and patients are using CONNECTPlus and we are seeing increasing impact on appointment numbers, patient feedback and patients better able to self care at home. Lessons?  Digital can and does deliver transformation – better care, better quality of life, better workplace experiences for staff, and higher levels of efficiency.”

“We can work better, faster and smarter than we had previously believed”

Many of this year’s submitted reflections were also hopeful for what was still to come in health tech, emboldened by the change in 2021. Thomas Webb, CEO, Ethical Healthcare Consulting, said: “2021 has been about ‘pandemic normalisation’- the realisation that although the health tech space can’t sustain the rapid pace seen throughout the last 18 months, what has been achieved has given us all confidence that we can work better, faster and smarter than we had previously believed. A sea-change has occurred and there’s no going back now, it feels a little like the genie is out of the bottle – health tech is now being taken more seriously by NHS executives, and it’s being recognised as being cost of business, not just a nice to have.”

Allscripts’ Richard Strong, Vice President International Services & Operations. Managing Director EMEA, also stated:Positives to emerge from what has been another difficult year for everyone involved with our health service have been the continued collaboration of technology providers, and more focus on open standards that are the future of digital health. 2021 has shown us the importance of using the many types of data that we have at our disposal to maximise the opportunity to help the NHS predict demand and provide more care out of hospital, through preventative intervention. This will be increasingly important as we tackle the challenges that lie ahead.”

For Jane Rendall, Sectra’s Managing Director for the UK and Ireland, there were also reasons to be positive: “A decisive mandate to make critical digital programmes happen and renewed agility, are two important things to take lessons from, as the NHS has continued to respond to COVID-19 during 2021. Despite the pressures of the pandemic, we have been working on more go-lives and have been supporting more digital diagnostic programmes with NHS partners than ever before. Hospitals and entire regions have identified access and availability of medical imaging as mission critical to patient care. People in the health service have committed time, energy, intellect and resource to driving this forward at scale, backed by c-level endorsement. Doing this in a collaborative and agile way is leading to earlier realisation of value as significant deployments have happened at pace.”

For Tom Whicher, Chief Executive of DrDoctor, meanwhile, “2021 was all about helping the NHS to shift back into recovering services with many choosing to find a hybrid model for follow up appointments using virtual consultations.”

Tom added: “Broadcast messaging helped to reduce the number of calls from referrals being chased. We also saw digital tools being quickly implemented to aid COVID-19 vaccinations as trusts looked to vaccinate their staff. The NHS also launched its ambitions for AI in order to proactively explore its potential and help develop their strategy for health and care. The government saw the need for solutions that optimise efficiency. Hopefully 2022 will see AI streamlining the analysis of patient feedback, medical records, and clinical data and providing a better experience for patients.”

Stuart Harrison, Co-founder and CEO of ETHOS, noted: “There has been a significant shift during the pandemic as healthcare professionals moved to digital/online and remote working at scale. This is catalysing the CPD (Continued Professional Development) requirements for clinicians as ‘digital’ practitioners. Healthcare professionals are used to carrying out risk management activities in day-to-day practice, but there is little awareness of the core set of standards relating to the risk management of digital technologies that are mandated in health and care.”

In 2021 the workplace and the workforce changed,” said Mark Walton, Chief Technology Officer at Block. “We re-imagined the office as a place for innovation and collaboration. Remote working became the norm for many and a focus on user experience was critical. Cloud became critical to transformation, acting as an enabler of speed, flexibility and scale. Data too was a focus with AI unlocking business insights to support better, faster decisions and change. Security and compliance were key, regulatory pressures increased and the cyber-attack surface grew. Intelligent, automated services were needed to protect critical data and systems and close the growing digital and cyber maturity gap.”

The pandemic has reminded people just how central diagnostics are to the work the NHS does. 2021 has seen significant funding released to the networks as part of Restoration and Recovery and major themes have been the continuing growth of the consortiums and a gear change in the establishment of Community Diagnostic Centres (CDC), noted Felix Williams, Chief Technology Officer, Ethical Healthcare Consulting.

“In imaging, as contracts come up for renewal, this has meant a consolidation of network technologies around single PACS suppliers. The increase in out-of-hospital examinations is a natural by-product of COVID and trusts/networks are looking for flexibility from suppliers as they establish their CDCs and data sharing solutions.”

2021 has been a year of growth and great partnerships”

Many commentators also shared their reflections on company-wide achievements, highlights and progress, as well as their hopes going forward, from what has been a busy year.

Juliet Bauer, UK Managing Director, Livi, stated: “Last year saw tremendous growth for Livi as appetite for digital health sustained even when society opened up. We saw month on month increases from both patients and partners, showing people appreciate increased access to high-quality healthcare. Livi also became the first digital healthcare provider to be rated ‘Outstanding’ by the Care Quality Commission, demonstrating how a digital player can offer great healthcare for everyone.

“Digital will be pivotal as increased use of batch messaging will facilitate fast-paced population health management programmes. Our messaging platform MJog by Livi continued to play a key role in delivering messages to the public on receiving a COVID booster, flu jab, or other health-related services. In 2022 our partnership with more than 4,000 GP practices will enable remote monitoring of patients’ mental and physical health, with results uploaded directly into patient records. This will help to improve patient safety and provide a more efficient way for practices to collect structured patient data for Quality Outcomes Framework reporting.”

Alan Lowe, CEO of Visionable, also looked back on events of the last year, adding: “2021 has been a year of growth and great partnerships for Visionable. We can see that the best way of solving healthcare’s biggest problems is by combining efforts with others wanting to make healthcare equitable and accessible to all. We’ve spent a lot of time speaking with senior healthcare leaders, learning from them, discussing what problems exist, and how we can provide solutions. Big changes are afoot in healthcare, particularly in the NHS, and I cannot wait to see how a combined and targeted effort will implement effective change in digital healthcare.”

Peter Corscadden of Hyland Healthcare, added: “The realignment of NHS Digital and NHSX promises to foster yet more collaboration between industry and care providers. This will help speed up the process from idea to execution, while ensuring solutions are tailored or even co-created, to solve problems and enhance patient care.

“Vendors need to show leadership in interoperability. Initiatives, such as IHE Connectathons, have become more important in the current climate, due to the rise of telehealth, remote work and digital interactions with patients.

“I regularly talk to hospitals who struggle with viewers that don’t seamlessly link up with EMR systems; or pathology reports that don’t reconcile to the correct patient record, or web viewers that don’t quite work as intended in the clinician’s home or off-site MDT meeting; and I’m proud of the ongoing commitment we continue to make in this crucial area of healthcare.”

And finally, sharing learnings from the year, and looking back at the challenges faced, was Liz Ashall-Payne, founding CEO of ORCHA.

“This year successive policy papers have stressed the need for digital health and new NICE guidelines called for therapy to be prescribed before antidepressants. There is a massive role for digital here,” said Liz.

“The problem is that unless we have a straightforward infrastructure in place to support digital health, we’re effectively building our house on sand. We need standards in place which define the threshold for quality. We need a formulary that clinicians can prescribe from and a system to track the delivery, with safety recall in place and adverse event reporting.”

On ORCHA’s last 12 months, she added: “This year we’ve partnered with seven ICSs across the entire South West of the country to provide a series of digital health libraries, each themed according to local health priorities. This fantastic project underlines yet again why we need policy makers to take our infrastructure concerns seriously. ORCHA’s international presence has grown again in 2021, with digital health libraries created in Dubai (a first for the Middle East) and Canada. Our work to ensure digital health interoperability across five Nordic states has taken a massive leap forward, with the creation of a draft Nordic baseline review.”


Thank you to everyone who shared their reflections on 2021 one with us – the team at HTN wishes you all a safe and happy 2022!