DigitalHealth.London Accelerator: Reflecting on the past year

The last 12 months have changed digital health in this country, and around the world, forever. When I took on the 12-month role of Programme Director for the DigitalHealth.London Accelerator, I could not possibly have anticipated how much the world as we all knew it would change.

I expected to lead a great group of people who believe digital technology can improve the lives of our patients and staff and are passionate about supporting great innovation. As an NHS Nurse with over 25 years of service, I have experience of major traumatic events, of working in a health system that is over-stretched and challenged, having to quickly adapt ways of working in order to save lives, and to expect challenges to be a part of everyday practice.   I like planning, however in my planning for the Accelerator, I did not think about the potential impact of a global pandemic.

COVID-19. A virus that has separated most of us from our places of work, our routines, from networking events and from our friends and loved ones.

Digital health has been at the forefront of our country’s response to this virus. The sector’s landscape has changed. Apps, digital pathways, machine learning and remote services have entered patients and staffs’ lives in a way that I don’t think can ever be rolled back.

About a year ago when I first started as Programme Director I went and met a friend and we discussed my new role, we talked about the support of companies and why it is important for the future of the NHS, for our staff and for patients. We ended that conversation with him calling me a “digital evangelist”, it was a name that I have thought about a few times since, with both negative and positive connotations. One month after COVID, I had a call from that friend saying….” I now know what you were going on about, I know now what it is you do and why”. Because of digital health he and his wife had been able to access care, quickly and efficiently during lockdown, and they felt that the GP had been less rushed online than previously when they had attended in person.

Many of the companies on our most recent cohort have a direct role in the COVID-19 response, like Xim working in urgent care centres with contactless measurement of vital signs and Medicspot who created a new product that can be transported into care homes to assess patients remotely. Edge used the analytics and modelling part of their business to support Trusts to use resources more effectively. Patchwork supported NHS staff by enabling easier and more efficient temporary staffing solutions. Birdie integrated the NHS111 COVID-19 symptom checker into their app for Home Care agencies as part of the NHSX TechForce19 challenge and Ortus-iHealth supported the transfer of hundreds of face-to-face appointments to their virtual outpatient platform eliminating the need to cancel appointments.

Others on cohort four have been providing services that otherwise would have been stopped, such as Eql whose MSK offering supported patients who were unable to attend appointments and now have a patient reach of over 9 million.

Some of our companies helped patients to better self-manage their conditions, reducing complications and avoiding hospitalisation like Ampersand supporting patients with Irritable Bowel Disease and Tiny Medical Apps a member of cohort 4 (and an Alumni from the Launchpad) who support children with Asthma.

DDM and Vinehealth created COVID-19 specific support for groups of vulnerable patients. 

Now as we enter the recovery phase of the pandemic, we have companies who are working to tackle the backlog of procedures like Lifebox who have been supporting NHS patients at a private hospital and IBEX who are supporting digital pathology workflows.

Some of our companies, whose products and digital solutions do not directly relate to COVID-19, used this time to create valuable evidence for their products such as Macusoft, White Swan and Motilent.

In the last 12 months while on the Accelerator, we’ve been thrilled to support Skin Vision as they recognised a value in investing in a UK staff member and took every opportunity available through the Accelerator, and Push Doctor as they achieved a reach of 5.2 million patients accessing primary care services.

We’ve been very proud of Sweatcoin’s relationship management with SW London, going the extra mile, it is an exemplar for good customer relationship and digital health collaboration. As well as opportunities, the global pandemic brought barriers for some digital health SMEs but I think I can speak on behalf of the whole team when I say we’ve been inspired by the achievements of Oxford Heartbeat over the past 12 months as they have proved not all things in their business needed to stop because of COVID, they won grants and awards and developed the business even expanding and hiring new staff.

The future of health and social care really does rely on the success of digital health products and services like those we support.

The past few months have been tough for us all, in different ways and for different reasons, but I am incredibly proud to have led this fantastic programme at a time I think we will all look back on as a defining moment for digital health.

Jenny Thomas, DigitalHealth.London’s Programme Director, is returning from maternity leave this month and as Deputy Programme Director I am going on to lead the Digital Pioneer Fellowship, a programme supporting NHS staff to deliver digital transformation projects. So, I am remaining part of the DigitalHealth.London family. I’d like to thank all of the companies on the Accelerator for their flexibility and continued engagement with the programme. A special thanks to the DigitalHealth.London team and partners for inspiring me every day to do better.