Groundbreaking research requires huge, rich and diverse datasets - something that cannot be found in one single location. There are several reasons why this is important.
First, while it may be convenient to draw your conclusions from one single source, taking data from just one hospital is simply not enough. New studies require bigger and bigger datasets, taken from multiple locations. This is crucial in building confidence in your results.
Second, certain conclusions simply cannot be drawn at all from just one data source. You may be researching a rare disease or performing molecular biology research on a subgroup of cancer in which case you very well may not have enough patients in one single location. You may also be tying several fields together - looking for correlations between genetics and pathology findings for example, which necessitates linking information taken from several departments. Either way, many types of research may require going beyond any single database.
Finally, data taken from one location lacks an extremely important feature - diversity. As it turns out, our race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, geographic location, sexual orientation, gender identity and other characteristics can have a crucial effect on how we are affected by disease and how we react to treatment. For this reason, research must be inclusive and include minority and other underrepresented groups. Using a single relatively homogenous cohort simply won’t cut it and could even lead to serious lapses in medical decisions. In one example, racial and ethnic minorities who contracted COVID-19 have been found to be three times more likely to be hospitalised. To solve these types of injustices, research must use heterogeneous data taken from multiple datasets that are spread out geographically and across populations.
The HealthTech industry is arguably one of the most complex environments to drive start-up growth. Beyond the challenges of sourcing funding to go-to-market, there are plenty of other key barriers to consider, for instance affordability in the NHS and navigating procurement and regulatory hurdles. Start-ups in healthcare need to show evidence of impact through real-world validation which can take years to complete. Protecting IP can also be fraught with risk and high costs.
Add the obstacles brought on by COVID-19 – lack of resources, issues with supply chains – and the path to commercialisation gets more complicated. Priorities in the NHS are changing frequently – now more than ever – to match patient needs. The NHS is going through another restructure adding further complexity for early-stage HealthTech start-ups looking to go-to-market.
Fortunately, there are programmes to help innovation at the near-to-market stage. The Academic Health Science Networks (AHSNs) offer regional support for commercialisation of services or products and drive them to adoption into the healthcare system. However, this requires clinical evidence of impact and resources which many earlier-stage companies will not have.
This year has seen a significant rise in telehealth – this being the distribution of health-related services and information via telecommunication technologies. Whilst not entirely new - this movement has been evolving for the past five or so years – the shift was significantly accelerated as COVID-19 shut down our regular healthcare systems.
The current funding for NHS digital health grants is up to half a million pounds which has further amplified the rise in digital healthcare. To help support social care the government has pledged £150m over the next three years in digital healthcare. Allowing long-distance patient and clinician contact, technology is transforming the way healthcare professionals treat and interact with patients – and it is a shift which is only going to continue to evolve at rapid pace as advancements in digihealth are set to take huge strides into 2023.