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Despark Director on HealthTech: Breast Feeding Bots Aren’t Enough – We Must Learn To Put The User First

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Despark’s Rhys Little discusses a prescription for better personalised care in the Digital Age, ahead of HealthTech event – book tickets here.

A few weeks ago, the WannaCry ransomware virus made short work of the NHS’ antiquated software, forcing hospital closures across the UK, and leaving patients in the lurch.

In doing so, WannaCry told us something about the UK healthcare industry that we already knew – we are not doing enough to digitalise, or personalise, the care our health services are providing in the modern technological age.

In an effort to redress the balance, Rhys Little, of product design agency Despark, who have begun to take a deep-dive into the HealthTech industry, has written a stirring report, highlighting many of the major issues the industry faces, and outlining ways that they can be solved.

“It’s enough to drive any tearful, sleep-deprived new mother to fling her smartphone across the room in frustration”, Little rages, referring to the horribly inadequate Breastfeeding Friend chatbot, built by the NHS, now available on Facebook Messenger.

The chatbot, it seems, struggles with basic terms and work is needed if it is to be transformed from a hindrance, to a help.

But, Little argues, we mustn’t give up on marrying the worlds of healthcare and technology, because it represents our best chance of coping with rising levels of illnesses such as dementia, obesity and heart disease, and of finding an alternative to the tidal wave of face-to-face consultations that doctors must face every hour – and there are far too many of those hours – of their working lives.

Virtual appointments are just one of the ways that the NHS can bridge the “colossal” £22bn funding gap for the NHS over the coming years, Little argues.

“Necessity”, he says, “is driving innovation”, and problem solvers are being found, from funding agencies like Innovate UK, more usually associated with backing hip early stage startups, to startups themselves, like Babylon Health, whose founder Dr. Ali Parsa says “I’d trust a machine over a human any day of the week, and I already do.”

Indeed, as Despark’s report reveals, Babylon have trialled a “111” scheme that automates the call handling process, which has generated mixed results, and also proven that its AI diagnosis technology can be more accurate than either a doctor or a nurse, under the right circumstances.

The beauty of AI, Little points out, is that it can perform actions thousands of times over, far quicker than any human, and it doesn’t become fatigued – like real doctors – which can lead to mis-diagnoses.

He also makes the very valid point that when it comes to healthcare, prevention is infinitely preferable to cure. That is another area where apps and technology can be a huge help, having the ability to “persuade us through and enjoyable user-experience, to change our behaviour”.

He concedes that “this kind of technology is most likely to appeal to tech-savvy, time-pressed 18-40 year olds who are used to their services being streamlined and on-demand anyway”, but argues that “even if that age-group were to adopt this kind of technology, it would go a long way to alleviating pressure on over-worked frontline services and free up medical staff to spend more time treating the elderly and very young…”

It’s very possible millennials can give the HealthTech industry the “shot in the arm” it so desperately needs.

If you feel your health-tech knowledge could do with a little sprucing up, and want to confront many of the issues current and future generations will face when they or their loved ones fall ill, this report is the perfect place to start.

And if it piques your curiosity, you can join Rhys and Despark for a lively panel discussion at The Collective, in Bloomsbury, on Wednesday 7th June.

Panellists include Alison Baum, Founder and CEO of Best Beginnings, Joop Tanis, Director of the SBRI Healthcare Programme, and Nina Blackett – Head of Digital Development at Macmillan.

Final word: Healthcare is a serious business – increasingly, it needs to become a disruptive one, too. It could be time to let the techies loose.


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