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health tech | Business Express

What British healthtech can learn from fintech

What British healthtech can learn from fintech

By Santosh Sahu, Founder & CEO of Charac

It’s no secret that the NHS is currently in a state of crisis. It creaks under the weight of an immense backlog – which in May reached a record high of 7.21 million patients waiting for surgery or specialist care. As of June this year, 90% of such patients have to wait over 46 weeks for an appointment. A major part of the problem is outdated technology, which severely hampers the quality of British healthcare outside hospitals. In beginning to address this problem, healthcare professionals might take a leaf out of the British fintech sector’s book – to do so would pay major dividends for the NHS and the patients it serves. 

A failure to communicate 

The crux of the NHS’s technology problem is poor communication between different providers and healthtech systems. Primary and secondary care systems have few ways to share information digitally; where communication does exist, it is often manual and inefficient – involving scanned documents or even paper records. This practice – needless to say – leads to a whole host of problems for the health service, from difficulties in tracking a patient’s medical history to poor channels of communication with patients themselves. 

What’s more, even the systems created by the UK’s innovative healthtech sector are similarly siloed. There is currently a lack of collaboration among healthtech providers such as EMIS, PSL, or RxWeb. These systems seldom communicate with one another, causing more inefficiencies and worse patient outcomes due to closed APIs, which prevent healthtech platforms from sharing vital medical information.  

The fintech example

Britain’s thriving fintech sector once faced similar problems. Namely, bank details were not often shared between fintech systems – which obstructed the flow of payments and limited the commercial application of these technologies. But from the middle of the 2010s onward, the British government recognised the potential of this sector and made a concerted investment in it, setting out a bold strategy of partnership and deregulation. For example, new Open Banking regulations in 2017 allowed fintech systems to share bank details with one another, speeding up payments and introducing these technologies into all walks of life. The British government also encouraged this industry by acting as an early adopter for new products, and by furnishing promising startups with funds through organisations such as the British Business Bank. 

This was a deliberate and well-thought-out strategy to grow the sector, and it has certainly paid off. The industry grew from a total value of £6.6 billion in 2015 to £11 billion by 2019. The British fintech sector is now a colossus that accounts for 8% of British financial services output.

Copying what works

With the NHS badly in need of a technological upgrade to help it clear the current backlog, we would be advised to apply some of the lessons learnt from fintech to Britain’s healthtech sector. Despite the problems with inter-system communication, the sector is in rude health and has huge potential for growth. Investment has grown by 900% between 2016 and 2021, rising to a record $3.8 billion, the third highest in the world. Britain also has an immense pool of talent, and the ‘Golden Triangle’ of universities in London, Oxford, and Cambridge represents an innovation cluster – home to over 500 healthtech startups. The UK also boasts a strong system of intellectual property law, which encourages potential innovators to set up shop here.

What the healthtech sector now needs is the kind of jolt in the arm that only government can provide. As with earlier Open Banking reforms, the British government should enable and encourage healthtech providers to share their APIs with one another – which would drive innovation and increase the ability of these systems to share medical information. The government should also encourage the NHS to act as an early adopter of healthtech systems, and should not wait for the private sector to take the lead. 

Finally, the government should consider funding innovative healthtech startups directly. This would be a worthy investment indeed. An upgraded and interconnected healthtech environment in which medical information can be easily shared has the power to drastically improve the healthcare situation on the ground. Even small technological improvements such as the ability to communicate with patients digitally would relieve GPs, specialists, and nurses from many rote administrative tasks, freeing up time for them to spend with patients. It is clear, then, that digital transformation can contribute greatly in clearing the NHS backlog – but, as with fintech, the British government has a definite role to play.

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