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Innovation happening in health

Posted on: Wednesday 20th of April 2011

Attended an excellent event at Nesta this morning. Four great speakers all revealing how new services designed around the user are making real savings for the NHS and other parts of the NHS. The introductory remark was that if 1% of consultations could take place at home, this would save the NHS £250m a year. It’s a huge saving and opportunity.

* Adil Abrar, founder and director, Sidekick Studios. Sidekick are behind the Buddy project, part of NESTA’s Reboot Britain programme looking at new solutions for public services, helping patients with anxiety and depression to track their moods.

* Sara Murray, founder and creator of Buddi, a personal GPS tracking device being used with the elderly and patients with Alzheimer’s.

* Mohammad Al-Ubaydli, CEO and founder, Patients Know Best who claim to have created the world’s first patient-controlled medical records system.

* Bill McKeon, CEO, Cellnovo, a company that provides mobile diabetes management systems.

All the speakers were from small companies who have developed niche services that work for two key reasons – they are centred on the benefit to the user and they do not attempt a direct integration with NHS and local government systems. For example, the Buddy system simply sends patients a once a day text that asks them how they are feeling and what they have done. The “data” stored is then kept to allow the patient and their advisor (family, community, church, or “even possible the NHS” as Adil said) to discuss what links good days and bad days.

The speakers were also clear – that good design starts with the product (Cellnovo benchmarks against the iPhone, not its competitors), continues with the interface (Cellnovo, a simple web browser) and into providing useful data. To use an example, from ibuddy – the “norm” is the patient norm, not some statistical number crunch from the population as a whole. The biggest challenge appears to be getting health professionals to change. Patients Know Best has a good model for this – “doctor get doctor” – getting the best doctors to use it and then to get their patients to ask their own doctors to use it. And the services seem to be working because they deliver. For example, ibuddy is now being used in 150 local authorities.

Technology is not the problem. The common theme is that the tech used is essentially from retail. Patients Know Best is about to launch a new service in South Devon on April 21 – using a revolutionary service called Skype. In fact, the meme was summed up by Adil at Buddy – use as little technology as possible.

All the examples are demonstrating the control shift, writ large. That if you start from the patient, you design new services that deliver what the patient needs and the patient is the point of integration. All the panel at the event agreed – the future is in “private pay”. That’s not to say that the NHS will become private more that the benefits are accrued initially by the patient and a subscription model of service suits this. In theory the subscription could be picked up the state but the pay as you go model means charges that are affordable to the user. Low cost doesn’t mean low service – almost the opposite. By keeping it simple, the service can be managed effectively – they are not designed to do everything, merely provide data to support the patient in improving their specific care pathways.

Although the event was health focused, the parallels with other markets are obvious. Enterprise software driven silos are being challenged by “apps” and that innovation happens when the customer has a problem. Business opportunities arise in fixing that problem. But these won’t fixed from within.