If there are any positives to come out of the Covid-19 crisis, the acceleration of digital innovation across the sector could be a big one, writes Dr Barney Gilbert, Founder of Pando Solutions.

Covid-19 is the biggest test the NHS has ever faced; how we respond will define the sector for years to come. There are very few positives that can be taken from a crisis of this magnitude, but one thing we can all look to for inspiration is the cutting-edge innovation that’s happening across the NHS as a direct result of the pandemic. Technology is proving pivotal to the UK’s Covid-19 response, with hearts and minds coming together to speed up care, pool resources and transform the NHS on a mass scale. My start-up, Pando Health, is just one such tech product that’s making a difference on the front line.

What we’re seeing is that throughout this crisis, time-saving communication solutions are providing a lifeline to teams treating patients on the frontline. In hospitals, technology has the power to make communication on and between wards simple, secure and effective. It’s about making life easier for NHS staff and powering better care for patients. Our app was built by and for healthcare workers; allowing them to rapidly and securely contact colleagues without the inadequacies of pagers and Whatsapp. The best tech tools are those which can weather all manner of use cases and the current crisis is throwing a stark spotlight on what our health service truly needs, and what’s mere window dressing. 

The appetite for new tools that can ease the burden on NHS staff is palpable. The proliferation of health tech solutions in the past few weeks – from digital GP surgeries to NHSX – is in direct response to the urgent call for support and innovation. This will help the healthcare system cope in the face of unprecedented demand. We have recorded a 700 per cent increase in daily downloads of Pando during March compared to the previous month and we are seeing over 75,000 messages exchanged via our network every day, as NHS staff turn to tech to pool resources and coordinate their Covid-19 response. 

But why now?

To put it bluntly, we need healthtech right now more than ever. Anything that can streamline, improve or speed up care will be and is saving lives. Decision makers are removing barriers to innovation as quickly as possible to ensure the tech gets to where it needs to be in days, rather than months. Products that would usually take months to be signed off are being fast-tracked to the front line, where they have never been more desperately needed nor their impact so keenly felt.

It’s also the case that now more than ever the entire NHS network needs to work together and tech is making this happen. We urgently need to communicate beyond the wards, linking up teams across the country so resources can be allocated where they’re needed most. Clinicians and GPs also need to be able to consult and make decisions remotely to ease the burden on teams if and when staff are required to self-isolate. We also need smart software solutions that ensure we can safely staff our wards and redeploy clinicians to where they are needed most.

This is a fight on many fronts and we need the full weight of the NHS behind it, supported by the best technology, if we’re to come out on top.

People before code 

While the importance of new technology in our fight against coronavirus cannot be overstated, it’s vital we don’t lose sight of the purpose of this innovation. This isn’t tech for tech’s sake, but is about freeing up time and energy for front line patient-centric care; enabling the humanity of healthcare to flourish. We don’t want to replace the human interaction that defines excellent care provision with technology, but rather leverage the power of digital tools to streamline how the NHS operates in a crisis. 

This isn’t tech for tech’s sake, but is about freeing up time and energy for front line patient-centric care; enabling the humanity of healthcare to flourish.

Dr Barney Gilbert, founder of Pando Solutions

This is why it’s so significant that tools like Pando have been created by NHS doctors themselves. Working on the ground delivering healthcare gives founders an understanding that goes deeper than models, metrics and user experience. Clinicians’ careers are defined by the highs, the lows, and the people they look after, so they can build tech solutions that really work. At a time when groundbreaking technology is so essential, who better to create it than the very people who so desperately need it to do their job and save lives?

It has taken the NHS a while to adopt new technology on a mass scale. This is because, in the health sector, there’s more at stake if you get it wrong. What we’re learning from the coronavirus crisis is that when the time is right – and when it matters most – the impact of technology can be huge. Tech will change the face of the NHS as we know it as a result of this crisis. And the benefits will be felt by professionals and patients for years to come.