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Clear standards alone won’t deliver the benefits of health tech

Tomorrow, Americans will gather with their families and friends to celebrate 4 July – Independence Day.

They’ll watch parades pass by and fireworks explode overhead to mark the 243 years since the United States Declaration of Independence, throwing off the shackles of a draconian empire to assert its freedom.

Start-ups and early-phase technology companies trying to work with the NHS must sometimes feel like staging their own Boston Tea Party, throwing their laptops and tablets into the nearest available harbour in protest at the bureaucracy and fragmentation that defines health service procurement.

Up until now, responsibility for data, digital and tech has been split between different agencies, teams and organisations, slowing down progress and ultimately affecting patients. Many of the computer systems the NHS relies on pre-date the internet, meaning that patients’ data doesn’t follow them between hospitals and doctors surgeries, let alone into the social care systems that increasingly need to be integrated with healthcare.

X marks the spot

All this is set to change with the introduction of NHSX, which will hold its launch event tomorrow. The new joint unit will have responsibility for data, digital and tech across the whole of the health service.

As Health Secretary Matt Hancock explained when he announced the creation of the organisation back in February, common standards will be at the heart of NHSX’s work.

I spent a day recently working with an expert panel to review the challenges for start-ups and early-phase businesses in having their technology adopted by the NHS.

Bringing a product to market and achieving wide-scale adoption is complex enough without facing the NHS’ mix of international regulations, local standards and a highly fragmented customer base.

The process is set to become even more daunting next May with the introduction of regulatory changes linked to the European Union’s Medical Device Regulation extension of class II products.

At the moment, there’s no single route for an innovator or entrepreneur to follow if they want to develop tech for the NHS, which in turns makes it harder to raise investment.

No-one would argue against the need to ensure the safety, quality and efficacy of med-tech; however the same patients that those confusing standards aim to protect are also the ones who are losing out because it takes so long to move from the drawing board to the bedside.

Putting patients first

The longer it takes to get a product to market, the higher the cost; an even more pressing issue in this continuing age of austerity.

In nearly 30 years working inside the NHS, across multiple health tech businesses, and now at Gemserv, I have seen improvements to patient care often held back due to the technology which could provide a solution being hampered.

That’s the real prize for NHSX – being able to improve the outcomes for patients, whilst freeing up health and social care staff to deliver those outcomes.

Germserv’s experience has taught us that introducing common standards is not enough in itself.

Innovators need to be able to clearly map the requirement to meet standards against their business plan, investment and product development.

That’s a complex challenge that requires a range of skills that don’t exist in most small businesses – let alone start-ups.

Without support to help inventors and innovators to navigate their way through those standards, we will have clearer guidelines but be no closer to delivering the ultimate benefit of reducing the time to market for the vendor, and the time to benefit the user.

Instead, there needs to be a change in approach by both the NHS and its suppliers to work together in partnership to realise those shared benefits – after all, it’s in the interests of both parties.

The skills and knowledge developed by Gemserv in helping businesses to play a role in transforming the energy market are now able to help companies harness the opportunities of the health-tech revolution promised by NHSX.

To find out more about NHSX visit their website here. To find out more about Gemserv’s work in health, read our latest insight here.

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