Dr Anne Blackwood, chief executive, Health Enterprise East explains how COVID-19 will change health and care delivery for years to come.
It is without doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted practically all aspects of our lives – and of course, health and care services are at the very forefront of this. Now, as the crisis period begins to subside, and with routine services starting to resume, we can start to consider what the future holds.
‘Normal’ working practices have been thrown out of the window due to the Coronavirus, and in their place digital health technologies have become commonplace for healthcare providers. An easy example is the huge uptick in remote consultations, be that over the phone or using video platforms. We have also seen the mobilisation of big data and artificial intelligence (AI) to track COVID-19 cases and help in the race to develop vaccines. There will be far too many to list, but it is certainly clear that such new innovative ways of working have all helped lead the fight against the pandemic.
We are now beginning to see lockdown restrictions relaxed, but it is clear that social distancing measures will remain in place for quite some time. This brings with it a continued impact on capacity for the NHS, but also, and more positively, an extended timeframe for recently adopted technologies to really become embedded into the way care is delivered.
Enhancing the efficiency of task-based activities and therefore freeing up clinician’s time and reducing costs is as vital as ever, and there are digital health platforms that do just this. For example, Medic Bleep, which provides secure and real-time communication between healthcare professionals, with a potential to replace outdated pager technology and facilitate safe clinical handover when shifts end. There is also MediShout, which uses digital technology and AI to solve logistical platforms, enabling clinicians to instantly report issues and even the potential to predict future problems. These digital health companies are gaining momentum because they understand it’s not just about the tech but understanding people and workflows too.
In the past, an over-stretched and fragmented system has seen new innovations fall by the wayside, with cultural and financial barriers often hindering rapid widespread adoption. In the last few months however, it is the barriers that we have seen begin to fall away – and it’s this progress that the medtech industry must hold on to.
In the current uncertain economic climate, it may feel tempting to press pause on certain research and development (R&D) projects and concentrate instead on sales of existing products – but this would be a mistake. At present, the NHS is more receptive than ever to needs-based innovation, something that innovators must utilise.
Accessing financial support will be critical for companies to see their innovations through to adoption, especially when venture capitalists might be focusing primarily on their existing portfolios rather than investing in new opportunities. The government’s £1.25 billion support package for innovative tech start-ups is particularly welcome in this sense, while there are also smaller-scale industry schemes such as Health Enterprise East’s own MedTech Navigator programme which has recently launched Innovation Grants for SMEs.
One thing that has been hugely uplifting is the way health and care providers and industry have worked together to face the crisis. By directly engaging with one another, the NHS’ access to much-needed equipment in short supply has been greatly helped. Long-held commercial interests from pharmaceutical companies have also been put aside, for instance lending their knowledge to collaborate on potential vaccine candidates. In future, we might see these bigger businesses seeking out more partnerships with innovative smaller players, rather than spend on internal R&D projects that are less certain.
Maintaining this spirit of collaboration is absolutely critical. Whatever the future may hold, industry is key to helping provide answers to some of the biggest health and care challenges of our day. With engagement strong and communication lines open, innovation can enhance health and care services now, and in the future.