Technology companies offering solutions such as well-being enhancing apps and NHS data analysis assist the NHS to save lives, and offer a compelling vision for the future of healthcare. Vernan Richards discusses the opportunities and challenges faced by technology companies in the healthcare space.
Healthcare spending in the UK sits at around the £120 billion mark, but less than 10% of that budget is dedicated to preventative public health initiatives. This isn’t surprising – it is to be expected that significant resource should go on curing illness – but it is interesting considering that studies have shown the healthcare market has the potential to impact only 10% of premature deaths compared to behavioural change impacting 40%.
Given the pressure the NHS is under to allocate resources effectively, this research suggests that investing in programs that reduce detrimental behaviours has real value. New technology is making this easier than ever, and with Apple declaring self-help as the app trend of last year, there is clearly consumer demand for making relevant lifestyle and wellbeing changes too.
An example of one such app is Calm Harm, which uses behavioural therapy to help people resist or manage the urge to self-harm. Another is the app Smokefree, developed by the NHS as a 4 week programme that offers support enabling you to track how long you’ve gone without smoking and what your progress means for your health and finances.
Prevention and technology are both key pillars of the recently released NHS Long Term Plan. Technology tools can act as a channel for advice and support, allow better monitoring of patients, and give the option of real time feedback. Let’s say you have a patient suffering from stress, they could be provided with a meditation app, the doctor can see patient usage and in turn the impact on their heart rate. Where this gets really exciting is that these tools can collect data from across the UK, monitor the effectiveness of different techniques on groups of people, and with machine learning automatically develop the ‘perfect’ programme for each case without the need for expensive and unreliable test groups.
Tech companies are also beginning to help the NHS to make better use of the fragmented data behemoth that sits beneath it. An example of this is Sensyne, a business that uses technology to find patterns in information, acting as a middleman between the health service and drug developers.
The biggest challenge is that entrepreneurs who can successfully combine clinical knowledge with UI design and machine learning skills are few and far between, and the standard required to achieve NHS adoption is incredibly high. They also have to overcome the difficulty of proving long-term behavioural change and the effectiveness of a machine learning proposition from the get-go. Businesses may find themselves needing consumers to ‘teach’ their tech but without the support of public health body licensing in the first instance they may not generate enough data to deliver optimised programs.
There is no doubt in my mind however, that eventually more businesses will be able to develop these propositions and deliver use cases that are too compelling for our health service to ignore. It feels like the tide is turning with the sophistication of what is on offer compared to even a few years ago. These businesses will be the cornerstone of the NHS’s future and given the possibilities in terms of lives saved, it is an incredibly exciting space in which to invest.
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