With age comes the increasing need for maintenance, so I’m increasingly aware of the inaccessibility of the UK’s National Health Service. Getting a face-to-face with any kind of medical practitioner in the UK is like getting an audience with the Pope right now. Med-tech has the solution to this of course, but, from what I hear, the UK’s NHS isn’t the only health service building barriers to it’s introduction.

Despite our government’s assurances that any patient can insist on a face-to-face consultation, I received a clear message from my local GP surgery “We don’t do face-to-face anymore unless a doctor decides during a telephone consultation, that it’s necessary”.  

So, instead of just calling to make an appointment with a doctor, I have to call to schedule a call to get the doctor’s approval to book a face-to-face, which could be weeks away, due to the back-log, which may well be caused by the doctors having to spend so much time on the phone to patients. Such is convoluted NHS thinking, but, then again, we are talking about people who, in significant numbers, believe med-tech means sending SMS appointment reminders.

There’s no doubt surgeries and hospital departments are stretched at the moment and they are not alone in offering Covid as the fall-back excuse. Border security, DVLA … you name it, are all still trotting out the Covid excuse. However, the truth is, whatever sectors we are talking about, Covid doesn’t create miss-management it can only highlight that which already exists.

As far as excuses go, Covid is history now and NHS managers, in offering it as a reason for today’s failures, only underline their collective incompetence. The service needed to change years ago, now it is essential that the it transforms in order to remain viable. The NHS is not alone of course, this is true of many businesses in many sectors, but the NHS is a good example because its deficiencies are so ingrained and so vivid.

The reason the NHS has been left behind is obvious. It’s brand community — the six key, special interest groups I’ve explained before — is dominated by medical people, politicians, old-school managers with few relevant skills and box-tickers. While its employees may be diverse, the service has failed spectacularly to engage them in a brand community with shared principles and a clear, common objective. Because of this it isn’t benefiting as it should from its diversity.

To make matters worse, the only members of that community who really understand med-tech are the people trying to sell it to them. Not a great position for the NHS to negotiate from. The outcome of this alone is that individual services or practices are buying incompatible technology that, because it is disconnected is incapable of delivering its real potential. No wonder self-interested PPE, drug and tech peddlers see our NHS as a pathway to personal wealth.

This also reflects back to a recent article of mine, in which I explore the dichotomy business leaders face with the transformation question. Because they mistakenly believe that transformation means no more than introducing labour-saving technology they haven’t achieved the outcomes they wanted or expected. Consequently, they consider the very principle of transformation flawed. The really sad thing about this in most cases is that the time and money organisations waste on inappropriate and disconnected “solutions” leaves them too depleted to do it all again … unless, of course, you are in an organisation like the NHS which the rest of us had e no choice but to bail out.

An organisation without clearly-stated values or beliefs or a common objective cannot build a brand community and like the NHS it it becomes a free-for-all, where self-interest prevails. I’m not suggesting that there is nobody in the NHS whose objectives aren’t noble, but they are overwhelmed by unprincipled, self-interested and exploitative hangers-on. If anyone is managing the NHS they need to get a grip … fast!

NHS managers will point to their reliance on IT experts to guide them through the med-tech maze and blame their innumerable failures on bad advice. This is clearly a mistake. I’ve explained innumerable times why business transformation — and that’s what we are talking about here — is not a tech subject and the transformation attempts of organisations that have thought it was have usually failed.

This brings me to an amazing piece of med-tech that it appears could make a big dent in the issues the NHS and other health services are facing.

I hesitated to include this under the “simple tech” banner I have been writing about lately. After all, it seems somehow belittling to refer to something that could make so much difference as “simple”. Yet, the principle is simple enough and this med-tech, like most solutions, involves an integration of existing technology rather than a completely green-field approach.

Of course, the extent of its impact will depend on the way it is applied. Leaving individual GP surgeries or NHS departments to install and run it themselves with their limited skills and experience probably isn’t the best approach, given the mess they have made of things so far. What’s required is for the NHS to impose a common platform on all health service operators as a condition of membership. Other platforms and applications can then be installed on this, thus providing the integration necessary to realise the full potential of any of this stuff.

The UnifAI digital reader I featured a few weeks ago under my Simple Tech subject tuned-in to the test error rate, but BioIntelliSense have taken things to a higher level with their remote care proposition.

BioIntelliSense is a hardware/software/platform combination that reads and provides monitoring of a greater number of vital signs over a prolonged period. It can also be used to allow wearers of their button to monitor their Covid status before going into work each day. This in itself represents a major time and cost-saving initiative right for our time, but it goes way beyond that.

Using BioIntelliSense any doctor can send a patient home while artificial intelligence maintains a watchful eye on their health for up to thirty days at a time. Longer, I guess, if they issue the patient with more buttons.

But why shouldn’t we all wear a sensor like that of Biointellisence all the time? We could be connected to our doctor’s surgery, or a central platform that continually monitors our vital signs and alerts GP or other heath professionals, when their intervention is required.

The benefits are obvious. In it’s simplest form, GPs would arrive each morning to an in-box of alerts and be able to take action, calling patients or organising the specific support they require. Patients would rarely have to call for appointments. Conditions would be spotted, before the patient would be aware of them and support provided proactively. Isn’t that what the NHS is supposed to be doing?

If anyone pre-empted the doctor’s call to them with a call to their surgery their GP would have real-time insight into their condition and therefore stand a better chance of either diagnosing their problem or, heaven forbid, advising them that it is “all in their mind”!

Hospital patients could be discharged earlier and their recovery monitored remotely. Not only would time and resources be saved, but there would be opportunities for add-ons and extensions, enhancing services and functions.

Imagine, a national health service that was improving both it’s service and efficiency! This is something I had dared not think of! However, before we celebrate this triumph of med-tech we have to accept that to attempt it’s introduction with the NHS in its current state would certainly lead to failure, more wasted investment and another chorus of “I told you so” from the very people that have already held progress back for decades.

First you build the community …

Phil Darby
March 31, 2022

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