Connecting Care in Communities

Transforming the Care, Health and Wellbeing Sectors through HealthTech

The care, health and wellbeing industries are currently undergoing a significant transformation. The effects of this transformation are not just being seen here in the UK, but in markets around the world.

The global population is growing, life expectancies are increasing and access to high quality healthcare services are at a premium. Furthermore, the proliferation of new technologies – including smartphones, tablets, apps and online tools – is completely altering the way businesses and consumers connect, with such digital innovations now destined to reshape the way people manage their physical and mental wellbeing.

According to a research report released by Global Market Insights in March 2018, the global digital health industry is forecast to reach a value of $379 billion by 2024; a meteoric rise from its value of just $35 billion in 2014. Driving this exponential growth is the appetite of both private and public sector organisations to digitise healthcare, combined with substantial interest from investors keen to access technology businesses operating in this rapidly expanding market.

However, despite the amount of hype and attention afforded to health technology – or HealthTech – there remains a need for greater understanding of exactly how new digital solutions are going to transform the way people manage their care, health and wellbeing. Moreover, it is important to consider the broader societal impact the adoption of HealthTech will have on UK consumers, service providers and the entire healthcare sector.

Using technology to improve hospital care

This year the National Health Service celebrates its 70th birthday. However, the institution, which has long been a jewel in the crown of the UK’s public sector, approaches this milestone with more uncertainty surrounding its future than ever before.

With budgets tightening at a time when the population is ageing and skilled workers are leaving the medical arena, the NHS is now struggling to meet public demand for its services. Indeed, in May 2018 a study of international health spending by the think tank Kings Fund revealed that the NHS has among the lowest per capita number of doctors, nurses and hospital beds in the western world.

Amidst such challenging conditions, technology has a vital role to play by assisting the NHS in its bid to improve efficiency, cut costs and maintain world-leading standards of healthcare. From the way data is collected, analysed and communicated through to the automation of day-to-day processes that consume significant amounts of doctors’ and nurses’ time – such as managing appointments – it is becoming impossible to see a future for the NHS without digital solutions being embraced.

Positively, embedding tech into the fabric of the public healthcare sector is evidently high on the priority list of the UK Government. For one, it has already implemented its Five Year Forward View, which makes an explicit commitment to creating the conditions necessary for proven innovations to be adopted faster and more systematically through the NHS.

This intent is already having an impact; for example, in early 2018 the Clinical Entrepreneurs Programme run by NHS England selected 138 entrepreneurs to design and deliver new technological solutions and innovations.

Empowering consumers to lead healthier lives

The benefits presented by the digital health market extend far beyond hospitals’ walls – the rise of HealthTech is having a significant bearing on people’s everyday lives, empowering them to take control of their own health.

In March 2018, WeMa Life commissioned an independent, nationally representative survey among more than 2,000 UK adults. The study uncovered that new technologies are already having a notable impact on the general public; it found that 28% of people are using health apps on a weekly basis, with a further 25% using wearable tech to monitor or improve their own health. Of these HealthTech users, 61% said they use them to easily incorporate healthier practices, exercise techniques or mental health tips into their daily life.

Importantly, elsewhere WeMa Life’s research also uncovered that 9% of people in the UK have used apps or wearable tech to detect a medical condition or health issue, while a further 12% use apps, wearable devices or online tools to monitor an on-going health problem. The findings demonstrate the transformative impact technology is going to play in the future of healthcare.

The adoption of HealthTech for tracking workout sessions, recording one’s dietary intake or even measuring the quality of an individual’s sleep is a positive development. But not only do digital solutions encourage people to lead healthier lives by providing them with greater insight into their physical and mental condition, new tools are also enabling consumers to identify and address potentially serious medical issues at an earlier stage.

It is not just the users who benefit from these advantages; this shift towards a better-informed population will also translate into fewer people requiring acute care services. By spotting and tackling problems before they become more advanced, health concerns can be addressed in a far quicker and less costly manner – methods like this, which keep people out of hospital beds, are critically important for the under-strain NHS.

Connecting care in communities

Improving processes inside hospitals and enabling people to lead healthier lives are two fundamental elements of the HealthTech revolution. However, there is another crucial piece to the puzzle – namely, the way that technology can better connect care, health and wellbeing providers with the people requiring these vital services.

At present, millions of people struggle to source such services, either for themselves or a loved one, clearly illustrating the need for tools to unite the care community. Indeed, this is the part of the market that WeMa Life was created to address; specifically, the online platform and app removes the challenges people face when trying to source, book and pay for any number of care, health and wellbeing services.

In January 2018, independent research commissioned to support the launch of WeMa Life showed just how commonplace these issues were. The study found that 46% of people who help provide care for a loved one find it cumbersome and stressful to find, book and transact for the required services. Furthermore, 53% of informal carers said the role has had a significant impact on their emotional state, while 30% have fallen out with friends and family because of tensions around their responsibilities.

WeMa Life was born out of its founders’ own experiences when caring for a family member. The difficulty and emotional strain encountered during this time made it clear that new solutions were required – new tools that, for example, enable someone to easily arrange for a nutritionist or physiotherapist to visit their elderly, unwell relative on a regular basis.

HealthTech stands to tackle this pertinent issue by connecting care within communities. In the case of WeMa Life, the startup provides an online marketplace that lists relevant service providers – ranging from companions and specialists carers, through to physios and personal trainers – so patients or those close to them can easily locate, compare, book and pay for the right care services. The web platform and mobile app also make it far simpler for both the provider and user of the services to communicate securely.

Recent analysis by the Care and Support Alliance showed that more than a million elderly and disabled people are being failed by the social care system as a result of a £2.5 billion funding gap. With the NHS restricted in its scope to assist this expanding collective, and care home availability both expensive and limited, HealthTech can help support this market while also assisting a wider population of people who simply wish to access these services to help them lead an easier, healthier life.

The value of online marketplaces

The need for technology to take the difficulty out of sourcing care, health and wellbeing services has become even greater in the context of the UK Government’s changing public health agenda. In April 2018, the NHS announced plans to provide an increasing number of patients across the UK with personal health budgets. This means that rather than having healthcare arranged for them, patients will instead collect funding with which they can themselves source the services they need.

A similar system already exists: the NHS’ Continuing Healthcare (CHC) scheme. Approximately 23,000 people in England currently obtain personal finance as part of CHC; but the expansion of the patient health budget initiative unveiled will purportedly result in as many as 350,000 Britons receiving such funding.

The announcement raises concerns over whether an individual will know how to go about booking the right services with the right providers for the right money. To ensure this happens, patients need education, transparency and choice – they must first understand where they can turn to find care and health services outside of the NHS, and must then feel confident they are selecting the right service provider for their specific wants and needs.

Furthermore, patients must be empowered by choice – there must be competition in the marketplace so a patient is not restricted to a small selection of care, health or wellbeing providers. Without such choice, the patient has a limited number of businesses or individuals to select from and thus could over-spend or receive a poor quality of care.

Advances in HealthTech, particularly online marketplaces such as WeMa Life, are essential if initiatives such as the NHS’ personal health budgets are to be successful. More generally, if patients are to be in a position to handle their own domiciliary care effectively than digital tools will be invaluable in making the process of finding, booking and paying for these services far easier and more cost effective.

Assisting businesses and accommodating new models of working

Patients and the NHS have been identified as the most obvious beneficiaries of the increased use of HeathTech. But there are others who stand to gain from this development.

Care, health and wellbeing providers – whether a business, agency or sole trader – have much to gain by embracing technological advancements. Firstly, the creation of online marketplaces to connect service providers with consumers will open up the vendors to a broader range of potential users. In the same way retail brands will acquire customers by listing on larger distributors’ platforms, so too can health and care providers reach a greater volume of clients by harnessing the traction of digital marketplaces.

For individual practitioners or small businesses, this benefit becomes particularly pronounced. Indeed, as the gig economy transforms the way services are provided in the UK, technology has an increasingly prominent role to play in helping contractors in the care, health and wellbeing markets to build a client base.

Shedding light on this trend, a survey of over 2,000 UK adults by WeMa Life demonstrated how the rise of the gig economy is changing working practices. The research found that one in five (19%) working adults currently identifying themselves as being a freelancer, sole trader or self-employed, while 6% of full-time employees stated that they plan to leave their job to enter the gig economy by the middle of 2019.

Of the current gig economy professionals, 71% said that the flexibility this model affords was the biggest appeal for working on a contractor or temporary basis. Moreover, half (50%) of gig economy workers consider apps and online platforms to be vital in enabling them to find work.

HealthTech is opening the care, health and wellbeing industries to more modern methods of working – by accommodating skilled professionals and service providers to access customers as well as manage their workload, digital solutions can develop a deep talent pool so consumers have a diverse range of providers to choose from.

In the case of WeMa Life, the benefits to the service providers go further still. The tools available through the online portal and app enable businesses of all sizes to improve the management and delivery of their services. As well as opening them up to a nationwide marketplace, WeMa Life lets health and care providers roster staff, arrange appointments, communicate with customers, accept payments, enhance efficiency, and with real time updates including secure 24/7 access from an location.

Realising the far-reaching potential of HealthTech

The exponential rise of HealthTech is the consequence of a perfect storm of market conditions. Set against a backdrop of dramatically changing consumer habits – with technology now fundamental to the way people browse for and purchase products or services – the entire healthcare space is changing, with digital tools destined to be at its core.

As this report demonstrates, the results of this technological revolution are impacting on a plethora of different groups: patients, consumers, hospital staff, businesses and sole traders. Indeed, just like the rafts of changes witnessed across the finance and property sectors through the rise of FinTech and PropTech in the past decade, so too will the health and care industries be transformed by the adoption of new technologies.

Not only is the progression of HealthTech unavoidable, it is also undoubtedly positive. Traditional practices governing the way people’s health is assessed, managed and improved – both in hospitals and in the home – are being disrupted by more efficient and effective digital solutions.

The outcome is that the general public has never been in a better position to take control of their physical and mental wellbeing, whether they are coping with some form of illnesses or simply wishing to better their health. Simultaneously, professionals operating within the care, health and wellbeing industries now have tools at their disposal to connect with patients and users, as well as modernise their practices, improve processes and take the burden out of compliance reporting. Together, these trends offer a brighter, more viable future for the entire healthcare sector at a time when challenging conditions dictate that change is essential.

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