The Power of Technology to Transform Healthcare
Andy Wright, Principal, Technology Practice, recently hosted a roundtable for c-suite leaders in the healthcare technology ecosystem, with the conversation centred around overcoming barriers to technology adoption in healthcare.
Healthcare is arguably the sector most in need of digital transformation, but it’s also probably the most difficult space in which to achieve that - with archaic working practices, lengthy sales cycles, and a complex ecosystem often getting in the way. But the good news is we are seeing progress with several success stories in the market, including many of the group present at our roundtable. As such the conversation was an optimistic one – focussing on how people have jumped over these hurdles.
We brought together a group of executives who each had their own take on this topic. Firstly, we had a variety of leaders from technology companies selling solutions into healthcare – ranging from remote monitoring, online doctor services, tech-enabled care and workforce solutions. We also welcomed people on the other side of the fence who have held technology leadership roles in the NHS, enabling them to see the challenges of implementation first-hand. In addition, we had perspectives from private health insurance, consultancies, membership organisations, and others with a specific focus on the application of artificial intelligence in healthcare.
Delivering technology solutions into healthcare
Shortening the sales cycle
A common issue with achieving technology adoption in healthcare can be the lengthy sales cycles – with lead times of over 12 months, and NHS trusts each wanting a different assessment, including where the solution had been delivered in other trusts. We heard from executives that had success in shortening the cycle, typically by insisting they had someone involved throughout the customer journey (e.g. board presentations) and thereby understanding the process – the questions asked, answers required, and obstacles to overcome in order to achieve take-up. This was the case across many of our audience, with success from engaging with the right stakeholders throughout the buying journey. This was typically done by finding the clinician in the process who will be making the decision, and often by engaging with the end-user, to give valuable insight and feedback on what works.
We then heard about a trend our audience had seen, which was the ‘consumerisation’ of software products in healthcare (along with other B2B software markets). People have become used to amazing experiences with apps in their day-to-day lives – with the likes of Uber and online banking products creating a much higher standard demanded from end-users of software. This product-led approach had helped propel some of our audience to the next level, helping to get fast adoption without the need of a traditional white glove sales process. Ultimately if people love using the technology, they’ll come back and it makes the conversations easier, as the product speaks for itself. Many agreed that building a consumer-led product was the right approach for healthcare.
By creating great products, we then heard that many had success from mobilising ‘champions’, or advocates of the solution within the healthcare ecosystem, at a local level or within hospitals. If your customer can become an influencer at a peer level, they become your biggest sales channel, helping 1000s of people to use the products in the right way. Healthcare is a market where people talk openly about what’s working for them (and what isn’t), increasing the ability to win over these champions, which is a trend that we’ve seen in other markets such as education technology.
Funding challenges and short-termism
We heard about the funding challenges our audience have to navigate, often with the focus being centred around a particular area – for instance at the moment, a big focus is on EPR modernisation. This makes it difficult for other solutions to get recognition and funding at that moment in time. This short-termism also creates challenges for some companies, where they’ve had a strong level of interest with multiple contract wins, but when it reaches the time for renewal there’s no central budget to renew them.
Our audience shared perspectives of balancing this short-term focus with a longer-term business strategy. We heard that if companies could have a product in their portfolio that solved the challenges of that ‘moment in time’, it would clearly help them gain traction that could help build their longer-term vision for the future, which may be more multi-faceted. On the other hand, companies couldn’t purely build something for what was in demand at that time, with us having seen the closure of some organisations that were only surviving on grants.
Ultimately, we heard that typically the only way to overcome these budgetary challenges was to demonstrate the value of the solution very clearly, which naturally would incorporate or centre around a financial benefit.
Getting beyond a pilot
One clear dynamic is the number of pilots in the NHS – “more pilots than the RAF” was a phrase used! Many saw that there was good take-up for trying a solution out, but the budget for years 2,3,4 and 5 simply didn’t exist. Moving from a pilot into the budget line of that particular NHS trust is a real challenge, and one that requires long-term commitment (on both sides).
Some of the experts who had sat on the NHS side encouraged the group to only commit to a pilot if they knew they could deliver long-term – and to ensure they had met with the key stakeholders of that organisation (for instance the CFO and Chief Medical Officer), to try and get some longer term buy-in for the solution. Having a clearly defined plan for beyond the pilot is crucial, and can often be overlooked.
Ease of implementation
We heard that it cannot be underestimated how busy the people using these technologies are, so one crucial success factor is ease of implementation. If you can start small, and make the solution easy to implement, this gives a good foundation for progress.
We also discussed the need to save your customers’ time with the product – often a technology solution seeks to solve a problem, but in reality, creates more workload for their customer. Those that had been able to build something that fits into the existing workflow, and speeds up, improves or automates that process, had seen success.
The application of artificial intelligence in healthcare
We then moved onto the application of AI in healthcare. It’s clear there are several exciting use cases for AI in the space, at a local level or in the hospital system, some of which we heard about and were clearly very promising. For instance, a new AI algorithm that helps to solve scheduling issues, and an AI-imaging solution that had become the leader in its field across Europe.
However, it was also clear that these examples are not being shared widely across the ecosystem, meaning the experiences of what’s working are being lost. There was a shared desire to publicise these success stories more widely and help realise the potential of AI in this space.
We also heard of the challenges of implementing solutions – AI and otherwise – across the disparate NHS ecosystem – with some trusts in the cloud and others server-based, for instance. It’s a romantic notion to think of the NHS as one entity, but in reality our audience are dealing with 100s of different organisations, each with their own priorities and stakeholders. The recent merger of NHS Digital and NHS England has sought to consolidate and simplify, but so far seems to have created inertia.
Herein lies the paradox of the UK health system – in the UK we have a huge opportunity with the NHS as a centralised organisation – but with it being so difficult to navigate, this also creates a challenge.
There was agreement that rolling out solutions into healthcare is undoubtedly a “hard slog” – but that those at the vanguard of solving problems in this market were typically driven by the purpose and mission at hand – meaning they were willing to stick it out!
This was a good note to finish the session on, with a reminder of the incredible work our group do to ultimately improve patient outcomes and save lives. There’s no denying the power of technology to transform healthcare – and whilst it’s a long, arduous journey to get there – the progress we’re seeing in the market is truly exciting.
We’d like to thank our attendees for an informative and insightful session.