Published on August 27th, 2020 📆 | 2743 Views ⚑0
Vision On—Why ‘Talking About Outcomes’ May Be The Best Way To Pitch New Technology To Britain’s NHS
If you’ve tried making an appointment to see a GP over the last six months or so, it’s probably become apparent that we are living in the age of remote consultation. Rather than making a call to secure a ten-minute slot, it has become necessary to submit a list of symptoms and then perhaps talk to a doctor by phone or over a video link, before (perhaps) being invited along to the surgery. In the age of Covid-19, triage is the order of the day.
All of which feeds into a general feeling that aspects of life we once took for granted – in this case, the right to see a doctor face-to-face – have been swept away by the realities of the pandemic.
But in the longer term, patient assessment via video link may deliver benefits that go well beyond the imperative to prevent the spread of Covid-19.
Certainly, that’s the view of Alan Lowe, co-founder and Chief Executive of telemedicine specialist Visionable.
Established in 2015 by Lowe and Lord Victor Adebowale, the U.K. company provides video conferencing software that not only connects doctors with patients but also with their peers. The aim is to create a platform that allows some of the best specialists available to assess the condition of patients, regardless of geographical location.
To date, 27 National Health Service Trusts – the organizations that deliver care locally beneath the larger umbrella of Britain’s health system – have used the platform, as has private provider BUPA. With £9.1 million in investment secured, Visionable is now expanding into the American market.
A Crowded Marketplace
On the face of it, this is a crowded marketplace. Covid-19 has – by all accounts – accelerated the use of video technology across just about every sector, including health. That should be good news for providers. But Britain’s NHS is a complex organization and it isn’t always easy for young companies to catch the ear of procurement managers. Equally important, how does an early stage business compete with established IT players. When I spoke to Alan Lowe I was keen to ask him, how his business had approached the complexities of selling into a complex healthcare ecosystem.
History has certainly played a part. “Prior to starting the company in 2015, I was a hospital manager,” he says.
From that perspective, he saw some of the challenges facing medical professionals who were already using video links. It wasn’t simply a case of connecting doctors with patients. “They also needed a range of information on-screen, such as scans and blood reports,” he says.
So Visionable’s founders set up to create a multi-screen, multi-image technology. “We developed the IT ourselves and we have 28 patents,” he says.
Specialist Use Cases
The founders had some very specific use cases in mind. In areas such as cancer, specialist doctors may not be available locally. The idea was to provide the means to enable health services to draw on national or global expertise. And in the field of stroke care, there is a shortage of practitioners and yet timely medical action is vital. Video consultation makes specialists available, even if none are on duty locally.
“The benefits of the system are access to expertise and cost reduction because hospitals can share doctors,” says Lowe. “You can also schedule appointments with multiple doctors for patients with comorbidities.
Selling The Service
Lowe acknowledges that selling into Britain’s NHS is not easy if you go through the IT procurement channels. So Visionable’s approach was to focus on specialisms. “We go to the stroke leads and the cancer leads and tell them that we can make a difference,” he says. “We approach things from a different angle,” he says. “We talk about outcomes before talking about the tech.”
In practice, the sales pitch revolves around the welfare of patients. “It is very difficult to calculate Return on Investment within the NHS,” says Lowe. So we say that we can save lives.”
There are, nonetheless, challenges, not least in terms of managing change. Telemedicine, in general, allows things to be done differently. But even if that means long-term efficiencies, in the short term, systems and processes have to be reviewed and staff trained. That has a cost, but some changes can be introduced incrementally by teams.
There are technical challenges too. Visionable is a software provider but in order to deliver benefits, the hardware and the connectivity have to be in place. That has created a need for technology partners, which at the moment include telecoms companies Verizon, O2 and Telefonica and also Samsung and Amazon. Meanwhile, the company has developed a system that allows consultations by doctors when patients are being transported by ambulance.
Visionable sees Microsoft and Oracle as its biggest competitor. Nevertheless, 32,000 patients have been assessed using the system so far and revenues have grown by a multiple of 6.5.
Teleconsultation is expected to be a growth area but startups face fierce competition from big players at a time when procurement heads have a limited amount of bandwidth. Making the case direct to clinicians is one way into the system.