Within the healthtech sector, start-ups offer perhaps the most exciting range of products and solutions designed to improve the health and wellbeing of populations.
Launched in 2017 as a competitive grant, the Pfizer Healthcare Hub: London is designed to help start-ups with innovative healthcare technologies scale-up their product and advance their business. The competition gives three start-ups the chance to win a share of £50,000 alongside support from Pfizer to help the companies grow and reach more patients and healthcare providers faster.
Last year, digital health companies Cera, Give Vision and Echo won the competition and have since went onto expand their businesses through initiatives such as funding rounds, marketing and growth support and specialist consulting.
Now, the 2018 edition of the Hub has just concluded its pitch event during which 10 shortlisted candidates presented to the Pfizer team about the benefits of their products or services to healthcare in the UK.
Digital Health Age had the chance to sit down with Dr Hamish Graham, Pfizer Healthcare Hub: London Manager, as well as two of the finalists, to talk about the event as well as innovation within the NHS.
In the first of a series of articles surrounding the Pfizer Healthcare Hub: London, Dr Graham talks to Digital Health Age about how the Hub is helping healthtech start-ups across the UK and why digital innovation is vital to the NHS.
Q: What was it like seeing all of the start-ups collaborating at the Pfizer Healthcare Hub?
A: It was phenomenal for me and I’m only just starting to appreciate how many of the start-ups came along yesterday to really engage with teams within Pfizer and the NHS on the use cases of their technology within healthcare. It was exactly what we were hoping to get from the pitch event which is only the start of the programme. Bringing these entrepreneurs together to have conversations about the challenges they’re seeing in scaling up in the healthcare system and how they might converse with people who have been working in it for years to try and improve and accelerate what they were doing is great. I think the entrepreneurs walked away with some great conversations and experiences as well as things to build on.
“What was really interesting over the course of yesterday was looking at how, if health systems and patients and industry can come together and bring those connections together, then actually we can connect multiple innovations to achieve things that in and of themselves an entrepreneur can’t accomplish.”
Q: Do you think the NHS has been too slow to adopt digital change and where do you see it heading in the future?
A: We had some really interesting conversations yesterday about the speed of adoption of digital technologies in the NHS. I think what we’re seeing is that digital innovation is being adopted in the NHS. What we’re seeing is that empathy is core to digital just as it’s core to all aspects of healthcare. Students who go to medical school still learn about the Hippocratic oath, they still learn about not doing any harm and moving into the digital age, that really interesting theme that came about throughout the day about scaling up digital innovations, about keeping patients at the centre of the deployment of that digital health innovation, it was really interesting to see just how many of the entrepreneurs were focusing their work around safety. One of the finalists had a particular focus on helping hospitals inspect themselves, so that was really refreshing to see that drive to scaling up innovation with a focus on improving systems.
Q: Is there any technology you see as being particularly relevant and important right now to the NHS?
A: One of the things when we went through the shortlisting process this year was the variety of applications we had. Both in the use cases and in the technological or the human factors being brought to it. One of the reasons we run the Hub is to connect these entrepreneurs to the health system and it’s about supporting the health system adopt these different types of technology. That variety fed through into yesterday so there were pretty compelling use cases for a lot of technology and use cases I hadn’t explored before. We heard a lot about things like AI. What was really interesting over the course of yesterday was looking at how, if health systems and patients and industry can come together and bring those connections together, then actually we can connect multiple innovations to achieve things that in and of themselves an entrepreneur can’t accomplish. I think collaborative approaches, co-creation and the deployment of these solutions is going to become increasingly important. I think it’s going to be the deployment and the human understanding that really allows the benefits to be realised in scaling-up. I don’t think there’s going to be one technology that changes the face of healthcare in 2018.
Q: In your experience how have previous winners of the Hub benefited from working alongside Pfizer?
A: I think what we hope to do with the Hub is sit down with the entrepreneurs who come into the programme and really understand what it is they’re trying to achieve, what the big assumptions are and how we can help them work through those. And I think that in the morning session yesterday we heard from GiveVision, one of the most interesting entries to last year’s applications, and one question we continue to get asked is why do we engage with these entrepreneurs, because it’s quite unusual for Pfizer to be looking at it, and what can we bring? And GiveVision explained on a really human level what it’s like being able to phone someone up and get help and advice from someone with no bias, no vested interest, just experience and an ear to help you have conversations and make choices.
Q: Do you think there needs to more awareness around digital health to increase adoption?
A: I think that again one of the things I’m gonna really put some thought behind in the coming months, is how teams across the country are engaging patients and systems in the co-creation of digital health interventions or add-ons to existing pathways. It’s an area that we’ve heard a lot about in medicines and that kind of thing, it’s an area we’ve heard the NHS work on in the traditional types of pathways, it’s an area that people have to feedback on when they go to hospitals. It seems to be that there’s some really great work coming through now in engaging patients in the co-creation and co-design of the digital experiences or digital tools and I think that’s going to be a really interesting space going forwards.
There have been plenty of stories, some really high-profile ones where there’s been a breakdown in educating citizens about the reasons and the benefits behind technology of the use of their data. When that’s broken down, it’s slowed the adoption of innovation and people have had to retrace their steps and reinform people. One of the ways I think Pfizer can help these entrepreneurs scale up is by sharing the learnings we’ve had over decades of research and scaling-up innovative products in healthcare, by sharing how you have to look after informing people, educating people and reducing the risk of people saying “oh my gosh I didn’t realise you were doing that with my data,”. You can use consent in really powerful ways to increase peoples’ engagement in what you’re trying to do. There doesn’t always have to a barrier, information and education can be real drivers of adoption.
Q: Lastly, how important are start-ups in helping to reduce pressure on the NHS and benefit patient care?
A: I think start-ups have a huge potential to transform health and wellbeing in developed societies and of course the developing world. It is the ability of the entrepreneurs to look at long-standing problems and bring new approaches with new technology and blend them with great insights around people; whether those people happen to be patients in the community, patients in the hospital or the people who are trying to deliver the health services, you bring that new perspective, the new ideas that people are working on, the behaviours and insights and blend that with technology that makes things more accessible and convenient. I think that these entrepreneurs can help people be well for longer, closer to home and they have the kind of disruption that healthcare is looking for to empower people to live well and longer.