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HealthTech entrepreneurs say Covid-19 ‘changing HealthTech forever’

Covid-19 is changing UK HealthTech forever, according to founders of UK healthcare  start-ups at a recent online round table organised by the Great British Entrepreneur Awards and haysmacintyre.

“Who are these 5%?” asked Jon Dawson, from the creative, media and tech team at accountants and tax advisors, haysmacintyre. He was chairing an online discussion between startup founders and other experts in UK health tech and healthcare.

He was citing research from Daeschner Consulting which found that 95% of respondents to a survey believe that Covid-19 will drive change in healthcare. But as Jon pointed out, the mystery surrounds why as many as 5% don’t think this. HealthTech and virtual health has been changed by Covid-19, of that there is no doubt.  But Jon wanted to know whether this change is here to stay, and what can be done to support it.

Appropriately enough, Mindy Daeschner, from Daeschner Consulting had a response: “Virtualisation of healthcare is here.” But she added that the variety of virtual health products “is vast, and we are seeing a little bit of a market grab.” She predicts “some consolidation.”

She continued: “Covid’s biggest impact has been attitudinal change.” Regulators, providers and consumers have all seen this change in attitude.

“When change happens, it often leads to positive outcomes — you can’t put the genie back in the bottle.”

Amer Fasihi of Kraydel, which provides a service for turning a TV into a video conferencing device believes that “Covid has catalysed the use of data” and how it moves across the ether and how you can respond.

He adds: “It would have taken the NHS such a long time to accept that you can do a lot of activities virtually.

“In the last six months, the use of internet technologies has become so much better understood, and the barriers to entry are much lower.”

Thuria Wenbar from e-Surgery, an online pharmacy, agreed that virtual health is here to say. “It is here for the long term and for good,” she said, but suggested that lack of knowledge has held it back. She called for greater integration between NHS content linking to third party apps — a process which is underway via an app evaluator called Orcha.

But the UK has the NHS, how does that change things?

Richard Chambers of Get a Drip, which provides vitamin drips and boosters, said that the “NHS is an amazing service, but you only go to it when you are seriously ill.”   The challenge, Richard believes, is that people look to the NHS to lend a kind of credibility to a therapy. “If the NHS says you don’t need something, it is not taken seriously.”

He gives as an example of how this can sometimes be an issue by citing Vitamin C deficiency. “If you don’t have scurvy, you don’t need to boost Vitamin C,” or so the NHS implies. “But that is not the case.”

It’s similar with Vitamin D he suggests — the level that the NHS recommends is still too low.”

But Richard suggests it is different in other countries.

Eva Alexandrides, from 111Skin, which provides a serum to protect skin, admitted that Covid-19 had created challenges. She was referring to how physical locations which sold 111Skin products closed during lockdown. She added: “But if you are flexible and have a strong team you can react quickly. We have managed to repatriate a lot of sales to the .com part of the business.”

But she added, “there is no space in the NHS for products like ours — unlike in some countries such as Germany — and you have to find a different way to position treatments.”

Amer Fasihi likens the NHS to a cottage industry. “What happens at the corporate level has nothing to do with the front line. You can talk to the corporate level and go nowhere. But, if you go to the Trust level, the appetite to do something new is there.  But the UK is unique in that people don’t have responsibility for their own health.” His point is that the NHS has become a kind of single source of truth. Whereas in international markets, “there is a more open view to buying in services.”

On this theme, Soumyadip Rakshit from MysteryVibe, referred to a conversation he had with Professor Tony Young, the National Clinical Lead for Innovation at NHS England. “If you can prove the value externally, the NHS will let you enter their system.”

The key, suggests Soumyadip, is to look for an alternative to the NHS in running a trial, such as a private clinic. And that he said, is the route into the NHS.

For Mindy Daeschner, post-Covid, when consumers may have less cash, governments may need to increase taxes, there will be ever greater pressure on efficiency.  She believes that opportunity awaits companies that can help solve that problem.

She said: “We buy on a place basis. And the virtual world is breaking down place-based systems.” She argues that this is leading to potentially more significant choice. “So, rather than see your GP, you can go online,” and thereby have access to a larger pool of experts. She added: “Choice drives good behaviour to create better services, better quality and lower costs.”

Mental health

But Covid has also been associated with mental health issues. In any case, before Covid, it was a serious issue, the virus exacerbated it. Can digital health and virtual health help?

MeeTwo provides pre-moderated peer support to young people aged 11– 25. It’s co-founder Kerstyn Comleyhad some interesting insight based on research carried out by the company. The research showed that anxiety levels for kids decreased during lockdown when schools were closed. “But it is not the school that has this effect,” she says, “it is social interactions inside and outside schools.”

But for adults, many mental health issues will follow Covid as people are made redundant, or career changes are forced upon them.  “Mental health issues will take two or three years to unfold,” said Kerstyn.

Stephanie Newport-Booth,  of Heka, an online wellness platform, had thoughts on the responsibility of an employer regarding mental health. “At the moment, people don’t know if their jobs are safe. They also feel like their days are really long,” she said. “Although they might work the same number of hours, because they are going from one meeting to the next, it feels more intense.”

“We are seeing a lot of companies reacting to this situation and understanding that what they were offering before was not enough to support employees’ well-being”

But companies are a lot more receptive now. They understand that employees’ mental health is linked to productivity.” They have also understood that each and every employee has different issues and conditions related to working from home.

“Having that insight has helped employers understand that they must accommodate employees at a personal level.”

Suzi Godson who partners Kerstyn Comley in running the MeeTwo app, said that “the NHS has been ignoring an awful lot of platforms for a long time and Covid has forced them to be more accountable.

“The child and adolescence mental health service is shameful. Before Covid, children were waiting for a year to be seen by mental health services, and during Covid, it shut down completely.

“Now, digital support is filling the gap and providing digital therapies.

“Before, support was only available to children who were suicidal, so Covid has forced people to take a look at a system that was effectively broken.”

And this leaves one question. How does a digital health company stand out when there is so much noise out there?

Getting the NHS to notice you  

MysteryVibe focuses on sexual health and its founder Soumyadip Rakshit, gave an account, which, product specifics aside, may serve as a good model for some companies.

“Most health journeys start with Google,” he explained. “But in the case of a condition such as erectile dysfunction, people often buy viagra based drugs that are not medical.”

There are other issues associated with sexual health, for example, “one in three women experience pain during intercourse, but not many people search for it.

“MysteryVibe seeks to understand what people are looking for. Search activities are often hampered because people don’t know the right terms.  So for Soumyadip and his team, it’s about providing relevant content.”