Digital product studio ustwo works with businesses and organisations of all shapes and sizes to create products and services that aim to solve today’s problems and identify future opportunities. Nicki Sprinz, managing director at ustwo and co-founder of Ada’s List, an international support group for women in tech, explains why the healthcare industry needs improvement, and how digital technology can help.
Healthcare is one of society’s biggest issues, from a cost, efficiency and a waste point of view. It is something that affects every one of us. Yet as an industry, it is also at least a decade behind other spheres in terms of investment, leading to what has been referred to as a humanitarian crisis.
There are several reasons for this – among them that the healthcare industry has regulations holding it back from particular ways of working and thinking. The change therefore has to start from the top. There has to be a determined and ongoing shift in mindset.
There is now a huge and pressing opportunity to improve the healthcare sector, and this comes in the form of digital technology. Tech enables us to do more with less, and these contemporary models and ways of thinking need to be brought into the industry as soon as possible. Among other advantages, digital technology leads to more preventative care and will therefore reduce costs to an already beleaguered service.
This isn’t about disrupting the status quo through tech, but about helping to guide and establish an external mindset internally. At the ground level, you also can’t adopt Mark Zuckerberg’s “move fast and break things” motto when dealing with patients. The industry has a duty of care. Not everybody has access – or even wants access – to IT. So when innovating within health, it is important to be mindful of those without access to tech.
Making a genuine difference
Already there are green shoots: the transformation of the health industry is partly due to start-ups, who are speedier in their innovations and are able to bring them to patients more quickly. For example, NHS Digital (formerly HSCIC), the UK’s public health platform, is making a new website where people can access information.
The national provider of information, data and IT systems for commissioners, analysts and clinicians in health and social care, NHS Digital already publishes over 260 statistical publications a year, provides a range of specialist data services, and manages informatics projects and programmes. Now, a new “digital roadmap” called “Empower the Person” is to be rolled out, along with a single NHS app to signpost access all NHS services. Other launches include a new online diabetes education tool.
At ustwo, we work with – and invest in – all kinds of businesses and organisations, from early-stage start-ups to global brands, to create and develop innovative digital services, products and apps that address the needs of the modern era. We’re passionate about making a genuine difference to users’ lives and a valuable and meaningful contribution to the world. Convening true partnerships between healthcare experts and digital health innovators allows the development of healthcare solutions that address people’s actual needs.
Last year, in collaboration with the Danish mental health company PauseAble, we launched Sway, an interactive app to help develop mindfulness and meditation techniques, which, if practised for 20 minutes a day can help regulate mood and significantly enhance attention levels. The app uses your phone’s motion sensors to track your bodily movements and provide feedback.
Meanwhile, working with the clinical team at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital, in partnership with parents, we co-created an app called Alder Play, to help kids who are anxious about coming into hospital, as well as distract them while they’re undergoing medical procedures. It also rewards them for ‘good behaviour’ such as remembering to sleep and have their meals, and having blood tests. It has just officially launched, and has been shown to reduce stress.
We also worked on a project for Google DeepMind called Streams, a phone app supporting patients going into an emergency situation – such as having sepsis or kidney injuries that could lead to death. Each year, 40,000 people die from kidney diseases, and NHS England estimates that 25% of those deaths were preventable. Our application monitored test results and alerted doctors when that situation seemed near. We partnered in such a way that even during the trial period of the app, we actually saved someone’s life.
Far from being an impersonal add-on, we believe tech can inject new life into healthcare and keep it fit for purpose at a fundamental level.