5 tips for clinicians working with digital health small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs)

Owain Rhys Hughes is the CEO of Cinapsis.

My name is Owain Hughes and I am the founder of the company called Cinapsis on the DigitalHealth.London Accelerator programme 2016-17. As a clinician, I’ve had the most fun partnering with SMEs to build and test new products and as a founder of two healthcare technology companies, I’ve learnt a lot about what makes an effective partnership between clinician and a tech company.

Clinicians are often frustrated by the digital tools we have at our disposal – they don’t even measure up to what we use at home, when they should be better. When even doing the weekly shop has become easy, why is the pace of change so slow in the NHS? That’s was what I imagined as a prospective medical student.

In my interview to get into medical school, I said that that being a doctor would allow me to work with the latest technology to improve care for my patients. I’ve not let go of that vision and neither has many of my colleagues. What I’ve realised is that change and innovation can be realised by partnering with agile technology companies – small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs), to give them their official titles.

Big med tech companies are typically busy selling us a better version of something the NHS brought some years ago. Evidence for this is that although they have stands at our academic conferences, but the people manning those stands are typically sales representatives – not their product development team, not their innovators.

These are my five top tips for clinicians wanting to innovate and bring about change in the NHS by partnering with digital health companies.

  1. Be serious

First, you the clinician must be serious about wanting to make a change and be sure that that change requires a new technical solution. Nothing worth doing comes easy – and you must be prepared to roll up your sleeves. This is your change and you must own it, so make sure the problem you want to solve is big enough to make the effort worthwhile. Similarly, you need to make sure you partner with a tech company that takes you seriously and will be a good partner. One way to judge is by the accessibility of its leadership – do they send their sales representative to meet you or are you speaking with the CEO? You should also judge their technical capability and understanding of information governance based on what they have developed before.

  1. Have vision

Spend time thinking what the change you want will look like. Learn about agile methodology and write your vision as a series of user stories e.g. ‘as a patient, I will be able to change my appointment using my smartphone’ or ‘as a doctor, I will be able to send a message to my patient remotely’. This will help the SME understand the scale of the problem and make accurate estimates about the amount of effort needed to deliver your solution.

  1. Be knowledgeable about the big picture

New projects represent both risk and opportunity. Working on your project will possibly cause the SME to have to pass on other interesting opportunities in the future. Like every partnership, you must be considerate to each other’s needs and concerns. When deciding to work with you, the SME will want to know that you’ve thought about the following questions (i) who benefits from the change that you’re proposing? (ii) what value does this change bring? (iii) how will the NHS pay for this change? (iv) is the solution that brings about this change scalable – can it be replicated at a cost less than the NHS will pay for it? (v) what do we need to do demonstrate this solution works? The best clinicians will both focus on their own immediate needs and spend time thinking about the bigger picture.

  1. Find an agile partner

The best results come from a tight agile team between you and the product developers. You should seek out an SME experienced in agile methodology and understand that innovation requires iteration – small improvements over time. Work on giving clear feedback on early releases of your product that will help make it better. This cycle is repeated until you arrive at your vision. You must remember to avoid mission drift – keep focused on your vision, remember those user stories. The best SMEs will also give you the benefits of their knowledge and experience, rather than mindlessly following instructions – the aim is to have a product that delivers the change you’ve envisioned. Getting there will be a team effort.

  1. Enjoy the journey

I’ve had many great experiences in my clinical career so far. None have given me more satisfaction, however, than turning an idea into a product that’s used by my colleagues and patients all over the world. Innovation is a journey – it will challenge you and change you as a person and as a clinician. It will introduce you the most interesting and able people who you may otherwise have never met and teach you new skills. I highly recommend it.

Cinapsis developed an integrated advice & guidance platform, which makes specialist advice easily accessible to GPs – closing the gap between primary and secondary care.

Cinapsis is one of 31 companies on the DigitalHealth.London Accelerator cohort 2016-17.

Connect with Owain on LinkedIn, Cinapsis website and follow @Cinapsisblog.