Positive prognosis for mix of tech and healthcare

Healthtech is set to be the UK's next disruptive tech trend, according to Rohit Patni, co-founder and CEO of online health and wellbeing market place WeMa

The informal carer sector is seen as in need of harnessing digital options on offer. Picture: PA

This year has not started particularly well for the May government. After a challenging 2017 that saw Brexit negotiations stutter and the Conservative Party lose its majority in the snap general election, the Prime Minister would have been hoping for a brighter 12 months. However, no sooner had the cabinet been reshuffled than industry bodies warned the NHS had reached a tipping point, struggling under the weight of public demand over winter, a reminder of the daily stress being placed on hospital staff, doctors and patients alike.

There are no simple solutions; what’s more, it’s too easy to point the finger of blame at May, Jeremy Hunt or any other individual. Calls for more state funding will need to be backed by a strategy that not only addresses current issues, but is also positioned to address the future challenges posed by tightening budgets and an ageing population. One of the best methods for improving efficiency and achieving cost savings without sacrificing the quality of service delivered is to embrace new technologies; to overhaul outdated practices and adopt new processes and digital solutions across the entire healthcare industry, extending from our hospitals to care in the home.

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Financial technology (fintech), for example, has truly revolutionised the way consumers, banks and investors manage their finances and engage with one another.

But this sort of innovation is not exclusive to the finance industry – the UK is globally recognised for its thriving ecosystem of tech companies, powered by start-ups and high-growth firms. Private capital investment has played a vital role,. Now, this same form of innovation is taking hold of the healthcare industry, and recent injections of capital into healthtech companies signal that 2018 could be the year tech solutions start to significantly transform the country’s healthcare landscape.

The UK’s digital health market is expected to grow by nearly £1 billion in 2018 to reach £2.9bn, driven predominately by health apps. More generally, the global digital health market is expected to be worth almost £43bn this year.

The NHS has already taken note, with its Five Year Forward View making an explicit commitment to creating the conditions necessary for proven innovations to be adopted faster and more systematically. Of course, the success of this initiative remains to be seen. Nonetheless, by attempting to address the UK’s health issues through all avenues available, there needs to be a willingness for the social adoption of tech solutions in the preventative healthcare space, as well as support for carers. Prevention is better than a cure, and encouraging people to live healthy lives not only promotes the vitality of a population, it also reduces the amount of people relying on public health services. It’s also important to consider the healthcare sector more broadly, and in particular, the services employed by both formal and informal carers looking after people within their own homes.

About one in eight people in the UK identify as informal carers. And as baby boomers enter retirement, it is projected that there will be more than 9 million informal carers in the UK in 20 years’ time. But this section of our healthcare sector is still forced to rely on archaic organisation process at odds with the accessible technology – namely smartphones and tablets – currently on offer.

Across different industries, online marketplaces and mobile apps are offering hybrid solutions allowing people to both search and pay for services through one online ecosystem. When it comes to healthcare, this type of technology can ensure that people are more autonomous in their ability to manage their healthcare issues, while at the same time alleviating some of the demand placed on public health services. By better connecting care in communities the burden on the NHS can be reduced. Indeed, promoting self-management is an important objective for the UK’s healthcare sector, and something digital solutions are naturally inclined to promote.

Looking to 2018, there is much scope for the government to encourage the adoption and promotion of tech in healthcare. It should see the coming 12 months as a chance to adopt a more proactive approach towards digital adoption, both within the NHS, and more generally in areas that promote preventative care and affect informal carers. Meanwhile, the private sector is charged with the job of creating and developing new digital solutions – a responsibility that lies not just with the businesses but also the investor community that supports them. There’s no questioning the amount of entrepreneurial talent currently on offer within the healthtech space; what we need to see is this creative potential harnessed so that digital solutions can improve the way the country manages its healthcare services. The UK’s future generations are relying on it.