Healthcare, like all other industries, thrives on innovation. Paradoxically, the complexity of the NHS means that innovation often falls by the wayside to more pressing and immediate challenges. In an organisation as financially handicapped as the NHS, which concurrently spends over £20 billion on goods and services annually, the margin for error is slim, and costs are measured with detailed and unrelenting scrutiny.
By contrast, SMEs often harbor perfect environments for innovation to flourish. One would therefore assume that the NHS would be keen to embrace these companies’ products, ideas and solutions. Unfortunately, selling to the NHS is not that simple. As the title would suggest, the NHS may be national, but it is not the singular, monolithic organisation that many perceive it to be. Rather, it is a sporadic collection of institutions; each with their own politics, personalities and priorities.
Those looking to sell their innovation to the NHS face a very complex and intricate system; one that is viewed as equally complex and intricate by those working within it. However, with the right approach, there’s a whole host of opportunity to exploit.
Based on our experience of working with the NHS, DrDoctor has outlined the following as useful pointers for Startups and SMEs looking to break into the NHS market:
Market-led Over Product-led
Innovators may be proud of their product, and rightfully so. However, the product must resonate with a market in which specific customers have immediate needs. Knowing your market inside out and understanding the priorities that individual trusts are working to will help you to align your offering much more effectively.
And then, crucially, there are patients. If you have a wonderful new product or service that will improve care for them, how are you going to get it into their hands? Which commissioners, group of clinical experts, or network of trusts is going to be interested, willing to pay, and willing to put the effort into backing your innovation?
An Ode to Effective Communication
Given the size and scope of the NHS, it may seem tempting to project one single message when selling the benefits of your innovation. While this may resonate with one area of the market, approaching your communication with a degree of modularity will help you to spark a much wider buy-in. In short, considering the whole decision-making process of the NHS when communication will enable you to maximise your potential for success.
Develop the right messages and value proposition, and reach out key influencers and decision-makers in as many ways as possible. In our experience, emails rarely work on their own, even though people say they would prefer to be contacted that way. Phone calls, together with supporting materials are often the best way. Make sure your message is memorable, relevant, and delivered at the right time in the right format.
Furthermore, be part of the relevant community for your innovation – in person, at events and virtually through websites and social media. Our friends, Health Foundry regularly host Lunch & Learn sessions, providing healthcare Startups with insights into the healthcare market and valuable networking opportunities – get yourself along!
Patience & Persistence Pays
It is well known that the procurement cycle for the NHS can be lengthy and, in turn, discourage innovation. Be persistent; get out there, meet people. The more active you are, the more your message will be taken on board. The NHS has some excellent people within it who do want to champion innovators. Finding them can prove difficult, but once you do, you have a good chance of gaining a foothold in the market and growing from there.
Bringing it all Back Home
The NHS is an ever-changing and complex organisation to work with. There are multiple entry levels for new products, which calls for those looking to sell to healthcare institutes to be symbiotically versatile, yet focused. Fostering a long-term approach, understanding your market inside out and having a modular communication strategy will help to propel your innovation to the next level in your endeavours of working with the NHS.