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Sweating the small stuff

Dr Anas Nader, CEO of Patchwork Health, on why undervaluing nuance is a mistake for health tech innovators.



The past 18 months have pushed the UK healthcare sector further than most could have ever imagined. The response from both frontline and support staff in the NHS has been nothing short of heroic, but the impact has not been felt lightly, writes Patchwork Health CEO Dr Anas Nader.

From a mounting workforce burnout crisis to ever-growing waiting lists, tough challenges are in need of creative solutions to restore system resilience and secure the future of health and social care provision.

Amongst those stepping up to the challenge are the health tech companies who are bringing their cutting-edge solutions to the heroes at the forefront of care delivery.

This technology has a vital role to play. However, as a doctor and healthtech CEO, there’s one thing I want all innovators to have at the forefront of their potentially life-saving strategies: nuance.

Yes, there’s no shortage of big, glaring problems to be tackled. But the real risk is that innovators are so blinded by the scale of these headline-grabbing issues that they neglect the subtleties that make them so impenetrable.

It’s time for the health tech community to sit up and take note of the unique complexities of the healthcare landscape, as only then will they deliver the solutions that patients, staff and employers really need.

The dangers of ignoring nuance

Good innovators engage in big-picture thinking, but great innovators preface this with a detailed analysis of the real problem at hand.

Consultation with on-the-ground healthcare staff and a  nuanced understanding of the real pain points and of the ecosystem they exist in, is vital.

Failing to achieve this wastes NHS time, money, and makes it less likely that future reforms will be enthusiastically received.

As the select examples below demonstrate, nuances cannot be sidelined in pursuit of progress.

One size does not fit all

Perhaps the most important reason why healthtech innovators should ‘sweat the small stuff’ is because every one of their partner healthcare organisations has its own bespoke needs and internal requirements. As a result, never assume that one size or solution fits all.

Bespoke solutions are essential, and to ignore this is to sacrifice any lasting or sustainable change. By listening to staff and identifying nuances – whether these lie in staffing systems, workflow management or training protocols –  innovators can co-create tailored solutions that match unique pain points.

Sign near St. Bartholomews Hospital in London, thanking the NHS during the Coronavirus pandemic.

London, UK – June 24th 2020: Sign near St. Bartholomews Hospital in London, thanking the NHS during the Coronavirus pandemic. The reflection of St. Pauls can also be seen in the window.

Client support falling short 

An ‘incredible’ tech solution has been built, but what happens after the contract has been signed? A reluctance to invest in ongoing client support to deliver genuine, tangible outcomes and in making the partnership a success will severely curtail the benefits delivered by any solution.

The intricacies of the roll-out and long-term implementation and embedding process must be proactively addressed, not left to the partner to handle alone.

To avoid creating extra work for overburdened staff and managers, new solutions must be user-friendly, require minimal training and onboarding, be quick to roll out and be reliable.

If a solution falls at any one of these hurdles, it will not be providing adequate return on investment.

Further to this, top-quality client support is a must-have, not a nice-to-have. After the initial onboarding process, ongoing support should be offered as standard, so the solution always meets the evolving needs of the organisation.

Health tech innovators must keep this particular nuance in mind and be able to provide support long after the procurement phase.

‘Island’ technology 

Owing to the multitude of digital operating systems in use across the NHS, any new tech tool or product must be interoperable.

This might seem like an obvious statement, but in fact it is a nuance that is regularly overlooked.

If a digital platform, app or programme fails to ‘speak’ to central computer and data systems, then it will most likely cause hassle rather than help.

Non-interoperable tech wastes the time of busy staff, disrupts existing processes, and could result in important information slipping through the net.

It also prevents different organisations from collaborating and sharing information, meaning that at times of fluctuating service demand, staff cannot be appropriately deployed and patients may not receive optimum care.

Such solutions are likely to be phased out quickly due to lack of popularity and usability, making staff increasingly jaded about new tech.

Making nuance the number one priority

When building Patchwork Health’s end-to-end workforce management solution for all staff groups, my team drew on their frontline NHS experience and on our existing partnerships to identify the details we couldn’t afford to overlook.

For example, on account of our close working relationship with numerous healthcare organisations, we were aware that a major and often overlooked barrier to the flexible movement of healthcare staff between employer trusts is credential checks and verifications. The process was an admin-laden rigmarole.

So to solve this, we built compliant digital passporting into our product that automatically and safely ‘ports’ workers’ credentials between employers.

Through identifying and directly addressing this nuance, we were able to deliver a tangible improvement by eliminating the need for unnecessary duplications in background checks and making the creation of a truly borderless, fluid NHS workforce possible.

Ultimately, all health tech innovators want to support the NHS, its staff and its patients in the most impactful way possible.

To do this, we must commit to looking both at the big and the detailed, contextualised picture of the problem we want to solve.

Our solutions should grow from these discoveries, not be retrofitted to accommodate them. Because, when we sweat the small stuff, great outcomes follow.

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