Succeeding in digital health technology

28 Nov, 2014

Plural’s Jonathan Dufton shares his thoughts on the digital health industry in the UK, and what software providers need to consider in order to be successful.

Attending the vibrant Health 2.0 Europe conference last week, it was hard to avoid the sense that the digital health revolution is about to take off. Innovation in the sector is rife, with numerous start-ups presenting tools and applications for clinicians, administrators and patients. There is an increasing acceptance that the use of technology and data in healthcare will lead to both improved clinical outcomes and efficiency in the system, two goals facing the almost every developed economy and acutely needed within the British NHS over the next five years.

Regulation is also supporting growth in the sector. Personalised Health and Care 2020, the recently published framework from The National Information Board in the UK, has set out a series of initiatives to encourage innovation in the sector, including establishing interoperability standards, the development of an NHS app store, and creating incentives for the healthcare system to adopt new technologies.

Workflow integration – a key challenge facing healthcare technology

There are clear challenges for companies looking to grow in this sector, ranging from business models (who will pay) to gaining traction within slow-moving and complex health systems such as the NHS. A key theme which emerged from the conference and one that resonated well with my own experience was the need to be embedded into existing user behaviour, whether this is the clinician or the patient and it is worth taking a moment to consider each in turn.

Clinicians tend to be the key users of B2B health applications. Despite a significant number of clinicians willing to embrace new technologies, when under constant time pressure and set behaviours, they are hard pressed to deviate from their existing practices to try new methods. In order to generate uptake of new products, workflow integration is vital. Integration can take a number of forms: from a technical aspect (such as connecting with an electronic health record) to digitising existing processes (for example, Patient Source’s eCasenotes can input sketches).

Patients are beginning to act more like consumers, particularly when it comes to apps. No longer is the provision of information sufficient, but methods to either engage users (for example, MySugr uses gamification to educate Diabetes patients) or provide a more efficient and effective system (companies such as Babylon offers ‘Uber’ style GP and Consultant booking services) are required to succeed.

What emerges from the experience of Health 2.0 participants developing solutions for both of these user groups is that the winning solution requires both a clear understanding of the challenge that the user faces, and also a clear and simple user interface which is easily accessible within existing processes. Without these capabilities, uptake will remain a struggle, even for the most effective and innovative of products.