Scottish healthtechs key to developing care of the future - Nick Freer

There is clearly an case for focusing on keeping people well rather than reacting to illness, says Freer. Picture: Stewart Attwood
There is clearly an case for focusing on keeping people well rather than reacting to illness, says Freer. Picture: Stewart Attwood
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The latest EICC Live event at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre, hosted by the EICC and Edinburgh BioQuarter under a recently announced partnership, featured an industry panel considering one of society’s great issues of the early 21st century: the future of health.

Dr Jamie Coleman, founder and chair of CodeBase and co-founder of drug discovery company UltraHuman, University of Edinburgh research scientist Catherine Stables and Edinburgh Medical School’s chair of molecular imaging and healthcare technology Professor Kev Dhaliwal, shared their views on developing trends and necessary drivers of change.

Coleman examined some of the roadblocks currently holding healthcare back – supply and logistics problems, convoluted procurement processes and global healthcare organisations which he described as “assassins of progress” set up “to say no”. “Amazon knows what you want and how to get it to you. Those kind of insights need to be driven into healthcare,” he said.

On a more optimistic note, Coleman assured the audience that “the start-ups are coming” and noted that in Edinburgh alone there are dozens of healthtechs developing innovative products and software. Coleman compared start-ups to the 20 per cent of bees who don’t follow the waggle dance – the way in which bees communicate the location of nectar, pollen, water and new sites to the rest of the hive – but instead go against the grain to search out uncharted territory. While many of these pioneering bees die in the process, a few will find new resources that will ultimately enable the whole colony to survive.

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If our start-ups hold the key that can unlock unwieldy behemoths like Big Pharma and the NHS, our most promising healthtech “bees” include Relaymed, Care Sourcer and Current Health. Relaymed develops software that allows patient results data to be relayed instantly to cloud-based medical databases, Care Sourcer is the UK’s first comparison and matching site for elderly care and Current Health, whose devices track patients’ vital signs, has partnerships with major US healthcare providers and a number of NHS trusts.

Sustaining wellbeing

Current Health’s chief operating officer Richard Lennox, who was Skyscanner’s 29th employee and helped to drive hypergrowth at the online travel site-turned-unicorn, was a keynote speaker at FutureX’s Startup Summit a fortnight ago. When you hear from people like Richard about data being streamed from a smartphone app and processed by algorithms, you begin to see a picture of a future where health really could be more akin to booking a flight or using mobile banking.

A Deloitte report last month stated: “The future of health will likely be driven by digital transformation enabled by radically interoperable data and open, secure platforms. Health is likely to revolve around sustaining wellbeing rather than responding to illness.”

It added: “Not only will consumers have access to detailed information about their own health, they will own their health data and play a central role in making decisions about their health and wellbeing.” With more than 80 per cent of healthcare spend going to treating chronic illness, there is clearly an overwhelming case for the focus shifting to keeping people well rather than reacting when they become ill.

So how is Scotland placed? Back at the EICC, Professor Kev Dhaliwal felt the nation was “in a relatively powerful position but needs to be much more integrated”. Dhaliwal also cited the credentials of Edinburgh BioQuarter which “might be the best example of this kind of model anywhere in the UK”.

During the audience Q&A, Jamie Coleman said he believed the NHS has had a “moment of understanding” about the need for change. What seems abundantly clear is that innovative early stage technology companies will play an integral role.

- Nick Freer is a founding director of the Freer Consultancy and Full Circle Partners

READ MORE: Scottish life sciences set for global boost from EICC and BioQuarter tie-up