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Can start-ups propel the NHS to a Digital Healthcare revolution?

The NHS was launched in 1948, and at seventy years old, many believe it is about time the huge institution joined the digital revolution. Yet is it as easy as that? And what are start-ups doing to pioneer a crucial turning point in healthcare today?

When the rest of our lives are so consumed by tech, from our eating habits, shopping habits and even our love lives, is it time that healthcare stood up and delivered these same enormous leaps?

If the constant media coverage and little time spent out of the public psyche is anything to go by, the NHS is a national obsession, for both good and bad reasons.

It is currently facing a digital dilemma but even more pressing are issues such as closing hospitals, staff shortages, cuts in funding and an ageing population.

With an annual budget of £116bn, the NHS has a massive amount to spend, yet the huge debates still lay with where and how best to spend it.

There is a world of talent outside of the NHS, but it is known that scaling up new technologies to a vast organisation takes time, and proof that it will truly work. Those who want to meet the challenge must test and scale up health technologies outside of the NHS to be able to implement them at scale once proven.

More than £17bn has been invested in healthcare start-ups globally, over the past seven years in order for them to introduce technology that could help solve real problems for patients in the UK and globally. Such as:

  • A company founded by spinal surgeon Andrew O’Brien called BioRegenerative Technologies is developing treatments for musculoskeletal problems like back pain. Through using a patients’ own stem cells to promote biological rebuilding of joints tendons and bones without surgery, the company is taking aim at the enormous cost placed on the NHS each year.

  • Orbitject, founded by Dr Ahmed Wobi, a neuroscience specialist, is an app which monitors injections for patients suffering from diabetes, maintaining their routine so they don’t need to.

  • Data scientist Elina Naydenova founded Feebris, an AI based mobile platform that allows for monitoring of chronic conditions in society’s most vulnerable, children and the elderly – who are increasingly reliant on regular GP appointments and complicated health programmes.

  • An early success story that built confidence is Patients Know Best, which stores digital medical records for care givers while maintaining patient privacy, and has been taken up by 200 sites across the NHS.

  • Zesty enables patient and referral bookings to be made through a smartphone, and is now used by 30 clinics across London. Three large hospitals are set to add the service, which will help ditch call centres and appointments sent by post.

  • Plus many more pilot schemes with smartphones and smartwatches where patients can book appointments, be reminded to take their medication and have their progress tracked by a doctor without visiting a hospital.

The NHS itself is taking steps towards change too with the introduction of ‘Academic Health Science Networks’ focusing on adopting innovation in the NHS. There is even an NHS tech accelerator and a new, faster way for hospitals to be reimbursed for spending money on new technology.

Several tech founders are trying to break into the NHS, bring it into the digital age and transform how it operates and provides care. If the NHS follows the public-private sector blueprint, Britain could become a global healthcare leader again, saving billions of pounds along the way.


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