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Hexarad: the digital response to a health personnel crisis



An innovative teleradiology firm is aiming to deal with the worsening shortage of radiologists, amid an increasing demand for scans. Health Tech World spoke to Farzana Rahman, CEO of Hexarad, to find out more.

An aging population, the Covid-19 pandemic and workforce shortages have led to a growing backlog in NHS radiology departments and, ultimately, diagnostic delays for patients.

A lack of radiologists – research suggests the field needs at least another 1,939 consultants to meet safe staffing levels – has combined with a growing need for more specialist and out-of-hours reporting, leading to a perfect storm.

Hexarad was founded in 2016 by a group of NHS consultant radiologists who wanted to address the problem through what it calls ‘intelligent outsourcing’, a model combining high-quality remote reporting with software that helps radiology departments become more efficient.

It provides remote, specialist clinical reporting on diagnostic images to both NHS trusts and private healthcare organisations, with a turnaround time of just 24 hours, and recently received £2.3 million in funding to expand its services.

HTW: As a group working within the NHS, what were the problems that you identified that led you to set up Hexarad?

FR: What we saw in radiology was huge demand for scans, partly because the nature of how medicine is practised has changed and partly because the population is older, with more chronic health problems.

So even back in 2016, the number of scans being done in the NHS was increasing every year.

However, in radiology departments, there just weren’t enough people to report those scans and they were trying to find more radiologists almost at the rate at which the demand was growing.=

What that means in practice is that patients have delays in getting diagnosed, which then invariably lead to delays in their treatment. And we saw that from a patient perspective, and I also saw it personally. I had a good friend whose father had a cancer that had been treated but had come back, and he had a delayed diagnosis on his scan, which led to a delay in his treatment.

So to see it from both sides really motivated us to set up Hexarad, because we thought we could do something to address the problem.

Do you think that your clinical background helps in this situation?

Absolutely, because as doctors, we had some insights into ways that we could try and improve the service that we could give.

If you’ve trained and worked as radiologists, as we were, you’ve seen first-hand what the problems are and also had a chance to see some of the solutions that are on offer, and what works and what doesn’t.

What we have seen, particularly as tech has advanced within healthcare, is what can be missed if it’s not clinically led.

How did the business itself develop?

Firstly, we started working in partnership with Alliance Medical, a scanning provider, which scans patients across the country, often for the NHS. They were our first partner, we were reporting their scans, which is how we got the business off the ground.

The majority of those scans were all from NHS patients which meant that, although we’re working with Alliance, they have a presence in a number of different sites around the country.

Does that mean the Hexarad is already in use around the UK?

Yes, we’re reporting scans from around the country, and we’ve grown in volume; last year, we reported around 100,000 screenings, and we’re growing quite considerably.

What we’re also seeing is that, because of the backlog post-Covid and the fact that radiology departments were already struggling, there’s growing demand for making sure that patients get diagnosed.

Teleradiology like ours offers healthcare providers the way to get that diagnosis quickly and all of our radiologists are UK trained consultants, who are still practising in the NHS, so we can provide a high quality of service.

Speaking of the pandemic, do you think it opened people’s minds to the potential of telemedicine?

I think people have been open minded for a while about the use of teleradiology, but the pandemic highlighted how important it is to have systems that make the most of technology.

What we offer is a little different, in that we have a model that we call intelligent outsourcing. So while we have doctors who work remotely to report scans for our customers, we’ve also developed a specific software tool, which we originally used ourselves, to help hospitals manage their own resource so they only outsource when they need to.

It’s about offering both and really adding value, helping hospitals save money where they can, but also giving them the reassurance that they have the extra supply to meet demand if they need it.

What are your plans going forward?

We want to keep building on what we’ve already done, so continuing to provide really high quality teleradiology services and to expand on the software that we’ve created to get that rolled out.

In the long term, our mission is to create excellence in medical imaging, because patients are having to wait longer and longer to get their results and that’s a really important problem to solve, because it has a direct impact.

What else is important to Hexarad?

As well as being passionate about patient care, we have a really strong ethos about social responsibility.

We’ve partnered with RAD-AID, which is a charity that helps developing countries improve patient access to radiology. We sponsor one of their fellows, and we’re working with them on a programme going forward, and we’ve also created a scholarship for less privileged medical students.

Because for us, the ethos of giving back is a really important reason for why we started the business – not just in the UK but everywhere.

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