Posted on 30/06/2017 by
In April NHS England backed the co-development of ‘novel technologies’ for primary care as part of its small business research initiative (SBRI).
The SBRI healthcare programme awards funding and support to tech-solutions which aim to revolutionise primary care and GP services and to build the general practices of the future. MARIE CAHALANE caught up with KAREN LIVINGSTONE, national director of SBRI Healthcare, to talk about the initiative and what it might mean for our practices tomorrow.
SBRI is a national NHS England programme that funds the co-development of new solutions for healthcare challenges. “What we do is work with the NHS to identify problems that currently don’t have solutions, or which have solutions that are inadequate,” Karen Livingstone, national director of SBRI Healthcare, explains.
Using a competitive process, they provide an opportunity for predominantly – but not exclusively – SMEs to present product/solution ideas that they would develop to address challenges currently faced in healthcare services. Successful applicants receive co-development funding.
Investing in the future
On April 10 this year SBRI Healthcare announced the recipients of the latest funding to be awarded through the programme. Twenty-two companies were selected to share the available £2.1m investment to develop and commercialise ‘novel technologies’ which have the potential to revolutionise GP services.
To qualify for the programme certain criteria have to be met. To establish these SBRI identified areas in primary care – and general practice in particular – in need of transformation, defining those areas requiring attention which would benefit most. Three main areas of focus were selected: workload and demand, diagnostics and earlier triage and, finally, self-care.
“We know that GPs and general practices are under serious pressure because of increasing workloads, having to deal with more complex cases, having to provide a huge amount of support for individuals who have chronic conditions – the range of challenges that we know are going on in primary care. So, we created the briefing document – featured on our website – that sets out areas of focus in terms of the opportunities for new innovations,” Karen says.
Meeting the criteria
The criteria for selection are driven by the briefing specifications set out in the document and there are three underpinning criteria that all SBRI funded programmes must evidence.
- Needs: Matching the needs of NHS England, as articulated in the briefing document.
- Skills and capabilities: The company seeking co-development funding must have the skills – or be able to access the skills – necessary to develop and create their proposed solution.
- Commercial realities: Applicants must have a clear sense of how they can commercialise their product. It’s all well and good having a solution but, if it’s not marketed and sold into the NHS, if the price points are not carefully worked out, then, unfortunately it’s unlikely to be successful in terms of being adopted.
The selected 22 companies are at the beginning of the feasibility stage. “What they’re doing at this point is proving the feasibility of their proposals. For example, one company has proposed carrying out diagnostic testing in a general practice setting using a tablet mechanism. You look in to the tablet as if it were a mirror and it uses a variety of systems to determine your wellbeing and health. That’s clearly quite transformational – but there are lots of technical risks,” Karen says. At the end of the six months of the feasibility stage it’s expected that each organisation will have a working prototype that looks promising, although all issues may not yet be ironed out.
There are also a number of proposed digital solutions which may easier to develop and, perhaps, test to establish whether they’re actually going to be useful – whether they will, for example, help healthcare professionals to address the challenge of diabetes or the specific clinical area they’ve focused on.
Other proposals that focus on workload and demand management, Karen says, will potentially be quite impactful quite quickly in GP practices. “We’ve got a few possibilities around different ways of working. For example, we have one exploring the possibility of bot-driven triage. You ring up to book an appointment and the bot has an interactive conversation with you about your condition and circumstances and will then direct you to the relevant GP – one with a specialist interest in your condition.” Karen expects such examples to be tested in general practice over the next couple of years.
In (general) practice
“We do envision that some of these solutions will change the way that our GP practices are interacting. They’re not for everyone, and not for every practice, but we can see future practices having more automated triage systems, or more home-based telemetry – where patients can send data and condition updates through various devices – for example,” Karen says.
Primary care and general practice are changing – as are people’s relationships with them. Karen believes that more people will seek to take ownership of their health. “We will see a stronger move towards self-care; more people will want to manage their own conditions more effectively and they will be seeking out solutions from a commercial standpoint as well as from the NHS to help them do that.”
The SBRI programme currently has 150 companies under contract across all healthcare areas; however, general practice is an area largely untested thus far. Solutions that have been realised as a result of the SBRI initiative have had a transformational effect on other areas of the healthcare sector and Karen and her team are confident that they will soon have a similar, transformative effect on general practice and across primary care.