Is the future of health & social care technological?

Health and social care
We recently wrote about the new wave of health and social care providers bringing fresh ways of working to the third and public sector, particularly the innovative work being done by the UK’s booming health-tech start-up industry. Some companies that particularly caught our attention were Cera Care, a London-based homecare company, and its ‘uber for social care’ model via an app that quickly connects carers with patients; Live Better With, an online community for cancer patients, artfully combining commercialism with social good goals; Thriva, pioneers of the home finger-prick test; and Denmark’s Walk With Path, creators of an innovative device for the elderly and people with Parkinson’s.

All in all, it has become apparent to us that the future of health and social care, to a large degree, is technological. While no website, app or technological solution will ever completely replace the physical space of a medical centre, care facility or hospital, and the importance of real human connection remains, there is no doubt that technology can improve the health and social care outcomes for billions of people across the globe – and is already in the process of doing so, as companies such as Cera Care demonstrate.

The COVID-19 pandemic has intensified this need for better technological solutions, such as telehealth or consultations via video, and functional apps.

What’s important though, is that technology is implemented in a thoughtful way and not just ‘because’. So often, in the public and third sector (in addition to the private sector as well sometimes), we fall into the trap of making a website, app or social media post just ‘because’, because it seems like the right thing to do, an action ticked off a task list.

To help guide us in the right direction, it’s always worth looking at other organisations doing great, innovative things.

Here are a few great examples of public sector, third sector and other social good organisations specifically in the health and social care arena that we’ve noted recently:

Babylon Health UK

According to The Drum, “Babylon wants to do for healthcare what Google did for information, what Uber did for transportation and, indeed, what Amazon did for books.” This quote sums up Babylon’s vision perfectly.

With a mission to make healthcare accessible and affordable for all, this London-based global healthtech company provides remote consultations with GPs and other healthcare professionals via text and video messaging through its app. In addition to allowing patients access to ‘face-to-face’ virtual appointments with a doctor within minutes 24/7, Babylon’s system harnesses the power of artificial intelligence to provide personalised health assessments, treatment advice, personal health tracking and more.

Patients are able to have prescriptions sent to a pharmacy of their choice, view their clinical records securely through the app, get free referrals and take more control over their own health through mood and activity tracking, a symptom-checker function, and so forth. One-off appointments with specialists and therapists are also available to app-holders.

Users can pay an annual fee for these services or opt for a one-off fee. There is also a free NHS option, wherein patients can register with a Babylon doctor in lieu of their regular NHS GP if they live within a Babylon catchment area.

Some employers are now also offering access to the Babylon app as part of perk packages, a fantastic way to improve staff’ health and wellbeing and, in a more pragmatic sense, reduce absences due to issues with access to regular NHS services.

In short, Babylon is a fantastic example of tech being used to improve social good outcomes and relieve strain on the NHS. Bravo!

Echo

Another extremely effective healthtech app concept, Echo allows patients to order repeat prescriptions, sans the trip to the GP. The prescription is then delivered to your door first class by Royal Mail for free. The app will also send you prescription reminders, remind you when it’s time to book an appointment with your GP and even prompt you to take your medicine.

It can be used by individuals or families.

Echo has partnered with more than 9,500 NHS England GP surgeries and is able to offer its service, including postage, free as it takes a cut of the gross profit a pharmacy makes from the NHS drug tariffs it receives to distribute medicine.

Again, a great instance of the public and private sectors working in unison to create better outcomes for patients.

OnCare

Born out of the Founders Factor incubator programme, OnCare’s mission is to make care easier with technology.

The healthtech offers carers and care organisations functional, data-driven and, importantly, well-designed solutions for managing their patients. As OnCare’s website reads: design is our key differentiator: Great design can make a real difference to a sector struggling to adopt modern technology.

The OnCare app helps care workers spend less time on paperwork, and more time on the things that really matter – delivering high-quality care to clients. Easily-digestible client information is available on the client’s profile, including address and property access details, as well as the client’s daily routine, interests, and more. OnCare lets you share those visit reports with your Agency, and with friends and family of your client (with their permission). Everyone can stay informed and involved with the client’s care, helping the client to reach their desired care outcomes.

OnCare’s CEO Alastair Cohen sees the start-up as less like Cera’s Uber-esque model and more like the Zoopla of social care. “We want to empower everyone – offline and online care-providers – with the tools to deliver fantastic personalised care,” he has been quoted as saying.

What do all these innovations have in common?
  • They respond to a certain problem (e.g. lack of availability to GP appointments) and address them directly, using technology
  • They relieve pressure on the NHS and other government-funded organisations
  • They demonstrate how the private and public sector can work fruitfully together towards a common goal
  • They borrow private sector innovation (hence all the Uber, Zoopla etc. references!) and apply it appropriately to services traditionally offered by the public sector
  • They show how public and third sector organisations can be thinking forward.

We now come back to the question we opened with: Is the future of health & social care technological?

So, what’s the answer?

A bit of yes and a bit of no.

The NHS, without technological innovation and the assistance of the private sector and the new wave of health and social care tech start-ups, simply won’t thrive going forward and be able to manage the needs of the patients and achieve its social good goals any other way.

All industries must change with the times, the health and social care sector included, and now is that time.

The public and third sectors must look to big data, technology-driven solutions and innovative minds, globally.