Programme Director, DigitalHealth.London Accelerator
The digital health sector in the UK has matured rapidly during the COVID-19 outbreak as in-person services have been reduced to minimise transmission.
Until recently, the requirements for proving digital innovation worked were unclear and the culture for implementing digital innovations had not matured. The diversity and complexity of procurement procedures and processes across the NHS, means it can be a real challenge for digital health small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) to navigate.
Thankfully, important steps by NICE and NHS England, in partnership with Public Health England, MedCity and DigitalHealth.London, were taken before COVID-19 to standardise how health technologies are reviewed and commissioned. Frameworks now exist for demonstrating evidence of effectiveness and economic impact, providing much needed standards for both commissioners and developers to adhere to.
Time-consuming and costly processes for health SMEs
Over the past five years, one of the most consistent challenges SMEs on the DigitalHealth.London Accelerator programme have experienced when trying to work with the NHS, is knowing how to best evidence their products and services.
It is right that the NHS sets the highest standards for digital health to ensure patients and staff get the best care and services; and that organisations do all they can to ensure innovations will work for their needs and challenges. However, given that the evidence required by NHS organisations can vary significantly, SMEs often complain that the process is time-consuming, costly and involves duplication.
This year has become a defining moment for digital health as it has been at the forefront of the NHS’ response to the pandemic.
Previously, there was no national standard of expectations for reviewing, assessing and evaluating digital technologies. This led to some NHS commissioners and clinicians demanding that digital tools be evaluated in the same way as drugs and medical devices before they could be adopted.
However, many digital tools do not qualify as direct treatments and therefore carry considerably less risk to patients than new drugs and devices. Even when digital tools do qualify as direct treatment, digital health SMEs often do not have the expertise or contacts in health economics or academic research to easily generate the required evidence quickly, or the necessary finances to fund it.
Digital health has been a lifeline in 2020
This year has become a defining moment for digital health as it has been at the forefront of the NHS’ response to the pandemic. NHS organisations have been able to quickly and safely implement new products and services for the first time.
Many have already been effectively evaluated such as remote GP consultations, self-management apps and workforce digital solutions meaning they are ready to be scaled across the country. This is a welcome shift in culture for SMEs, NHS staff and patients alike.
At DigitalHealth.London we are proud to accelerate the best in digital health and support the evidence generation that requires.