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Social listening and patient care

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Health Tech World spoke to Dr Mark Lomax about his growing start-up, PEP, a social listening tool that can accurately predict the CQC rating of medical institutions.

Patient Experience Platform (PEP) is the first social listening tool that listens to patients. The platform scrapes data from multiple different sources across the internet, including social media sites and online review platforms, then brings them together to generate real-time insight into the patient experience.

Dr Mark Lomax joined the founding team as CEO in 2019. Since then, the Anglo-Dutch company has won an innovate UK competition for best early stage technology, receiving £700,000 funding, and was selected to be part of the NHS innovation accelerator.

Using machine learning and natural language processing, PEP is able to track providers over time, listening to how patients experience their care and identifying what matters to them most.

The company has been collecting data since 2018 for every hospital in the UK, scoring each patient comment on a scale of one to five. Comments are then themed and tagged to the relevant departments within hospitals.

Speaking to Health Tech World, Lomax said: “One of the most exciting things about PEP is that it gives a benchmark which we’ve never had before, so we can compare hospital A with hospital B from the patient’s point of view.

“PEP is based on Python scripting predominantly with natural language processing. Everything that’s been done has been developed by the team themselves, so there’s no off the shelf solution that sits within the software.”

Given the highly specialist nature of medical terminology, normal sentiment analysis tools are unable to interpret and understand many of the words that patients use. So, the team at PEP created their own health dictionary, coding around 60,000 comments manually before reaching the accuracy levels that the platform is now able to deliver.

PEP says the platform is at or above 95% accuracy and in a paper published by the company, the software was shown to be a strong predictor of CQC ratings for hospitals.

Lomax said: “This means that the number that we generate with that overall score really matters. It’s a number that actually gives an insight about the quality of the providers.”

PEP is still in its early stages, winning its first five regular customers this year. but the company says there is a lot of interest in the software, not only from hospitals but also NHS England regulators, insurers and patient groups.

Lomax said: “There’s a lot of people that have tried to do this and we know from our own experience that there’s a lot of interest out there, so we really want to capitalise on us being first to market with a working, successful solution.

“The NHS likes it from an operational resource point of view and also from a patient safety angle, because patients are identifying quite a number of safety issues, which can then be dealt with promptly.

“Staff on the front line are finding it really useful for engagement, learning and understanding that what they do makes a difference in real time. So if there are any learnings to be taken, they can be done quickly whilst it’s fresh in people’s minds.

“The private market is a lot smaller in the UK than the NHS. But we know that the private markets are really interested as well because it can give competitive insights if they are competing against another hospital locally.”

PEP currently offers two products. First is a single insight report on a specific area of healthcare, such as maternity services. However, the company intends for the software to instead be purchased as a 12-month licence, offering clinicians access to data in real-time through a dashboard.

Lomax said: “Currently at the pricing we’re offering it’s a low hurdle for entry for people to buy us. And we’re really keen to build up the next dozen clients to start to work with us, which will really help us get more learning from customers and be able to iterate our product further.”

Originally trained as a doctor, Lomax decided to take his career in a different direction, becoming an entrepreneur in 2002 with launch of MediHome; a company offering ‘hospital in the home’ service.

By the time the company was bought by Healthcare At Home in 2013, it was employing around 500 people.

Following the acquisition, Lomax set his sights on digital and data solutions. He said: “digital and data have got to be the future, and healthcare lags behind a lot of other industries in terms of its adoption of technology.

“I was really keen to be a part of that journey, so I’d started mentoring some start-ups myself in the digital space and being part of that really helped me understand and learn more about digital solutions and how they could work in healthcare.

“I was introduced to the founders of PEP about a year ago. We liked each other, we had common values and a common view of the future and what we were trying to achieve. When they asked me to join as CEO I was delighted and it’s been a great journey so far.”

With funding from Innovate UK and an additional 200,000 euros funding from Amsterdam-based NLC ventures, PEP intends to expand into other sectors and geographical regions.

The company says there is interest in the software, not only from hospitals but also NHS England regulators, insurers, patient groups and other healthcare sectors.

“We’ve had some really great successes in the last six months,” said Lomax. “Looking ahead to the next 12 months, there are two things that we see happening.

“One is we’d like to start breaking out of the UK market and start working elsewhere. And the second thing is evolving the tool to work beyond the hospital environment. We’re thinking of GP practices and nursing homes, community services.

“I think we can have a really important role to play in healthcare, both on a local level, and on a national level. Locally, we can give much stronger board assurance and much stronger data than they’ve ever had before about what’s really going on from their patient’s point of view.”

“We can present data to them in a way that they can actually use to improve services and raise the quality of what they deliver.”

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