Healthcare IT, NHS, Our Tech

Why the NHS Finds Technology So Hard

Getting tech ‘right’ is hard, there is no doubt about it. Technology is advancing so rapidly, companies of all sizes and disciplines struggle to pinpoint which innovation to back.  With cost-effectiveness, risk factors, security, implementation times, changes in procedure and training, all key factors in decision making, it is no surprise that analysis paralysis is present whenever the topic of technological innovation comes up.

Having worked across Aerospace & Defence, Healthcare, FMCG, Industrials and Automotives while at Newton, I saw this time and time again. Now, as co-founder of DrDoctor, having spent the last 5 years delivering specifically to the NHS, I’ve identified three challenges that are more specific to the NHS, and that companies in the burgeoning ‘digital health’ space, will have to overcome to be successful.

  1. Fragmented Internal Governance

The first realisation to be made is that different sectors of the service are managed and regulated independently. These sectors can be based on:

  • Service type (booking/clinical/ follow-ups)
  • Specialty (neurology, gastrointestinal etc.),
  • Patient groups (children, elderly, diabetics etc.)
  • Location (different hospitals within a Trust, different parts of a hospital or different geographical areas within the same Trust)

This fragmentation often leads to a plethora of challenges including reduced visibility and communication between sectors, slower than expected decision making, a more complicated than usual organisational design, and conflicting internal IT systems.  Independently, none of these issues are critical as long as companies expect the setbacks associated with them – planning for them in advance is the best solution.

  1. Manage internal risk / comply with regulation

IG, or Information Governance can paralyse pilot programs and strike fear into project managers, but this shouldn’t be the case. IG exists to allow hospitals to test new ideas and innovate in a safe and secure way – by understanding the nuances and getting the rights advice from experts, you can ensure you are testing in a safe environment and deploy with confidence.  Managers within the NHS will be hesitant to promote seemingly ‘risky’ new technology, even if it is an improvement on their current solution, as it would reflect badly on them if anything doesn’t go well.  This is compounded by the apparent resource drain of enquiring from IG managers whether something is compliant, rather than just assuming it isn’t.

  1. External government in flux

Due to the continuous shifting of the political landscape, rules, priorities and targets are constantly changing, making it hard for NHS senior management to adequately plan for longer-term projects.  This lack of clarity makes it difficult for external companies to align their growth plans with the future aspirations of NHS Trusts.  A solution to this uncertainty is to stay up to date with current affairs, be adaptable and most of all, listen. Listening to your clients, partners and prospects will give you clarity of the needs, challenges and frustrations of the person who is talking.  This could be in op-eds in the newspaper, face to face meetings, or even on Twitter – listening well will be the difference between success and failure.

By understanding these frustrations and approaching the situation with a deep degree of empathy, these challenges will not be a stumbling block, but an opportunity for you to show you both understand the NHS’s problems, can be a partner for a solution, and turn it into an advantage. This list is by no means conclusive, but it is my understanding of some of the challenges that the NHS faces when it comes to adopting new technology. As I mentioned, listening is key, so please share your thoughts on why you think the NHS is struggling with this, and I will listen.