I recently took part in the BAPRAS healthcare hackathon, which was organised with the objective of developing ideas that improve the ways surgery is delivered in the UK and across the world.
I had the pleasure to meet Leonidas (#LBS4life!) at the event and we decided to team up to develop an idea within 48 hours. With no coding skills, we focused on the business case, product-market fit and the feasibility of product development and deployment across the NHS.
Firstly, we spoke to the doctors, present at the event, to understand what frustrates them most about their jobs. Based on these interviews, we mapped several pain points and narrowed down our list to problems that can be solved with existing technology solutions. We also paid attention to when the doctors were really passionate about a particular problem that bugged them.
I was very surprised to hear that no-shows / last-minute patient cancellation is a major issue for surgeries / general doc appointments. A doctor, who deals with cancer patients, mentioned that 1–2 out of 10 appointments per day do not show up or are late. Furthermore, patients, who do not follow pre-operative procedures, would be in this same bucket. This is an issue as (a) doctors sit their twiddling their thumbs, (b) affected patient have to wait longer for treatment (c) other patients could have been treated during that time slot and (d) NHS wastes millions of pounds per year. We drilled down to the root cause of the problem. At one extreme, patients are often overwhelmed with their health issues and the opaque ways appointments and diagnosis are communicated with them. At another extreme, patients. mostly with routine check-ups, tend to forget their appointments (I may be guilty of that…). In most cases, lack of continuous engagement is the common reason, leading to no-shows / last-minute patient cancellations.
We designed a simple multi-channel solution that interacts with patients through a combination of text, automated calls and a mobile app. Think of it as appointment reminder solution + pre-appointment to-do list + appointment guide. The goal is to reduce no-shows / cancellations and enhance patient experience by increasing engagement pre-surgery / procedure. Whilst the platform is sought to be automated, complicated cases can be easily escalated to the medical staff.
Our short pitch deck, that we presented at the end of the hackathon is below.
Current State of Appointment Reminders
While we did not build a functioning prototype during the hackathon, I believe that the idea is relatively easy to implement from a tech perspective. Appointment reminders (basic version of our product) such as Healthcare Communications (owned by IMImobile) already exist. Other communication as a service provider such as Messagebird also offer appointment reminder solutions. Furthermore, DrDoctor , a digital transformation specialist for NHS, also provides the solution for several NHS Trusts. The current product iterations are mostly basic and only serve as appointment reminders without allowing any interaction. Developing more features such as to-do lists, appointment guides and post-appointment to-do lists would be version 2.0 and a natural evolution of the existing solutions. In particular, the focus on interaction will have a significantly impact on appointment cancellations as doctors / NHS trusts will be able to gather useful data on why patients cancel etc.
Adoption is a Key Issue
It seems that widespread adoption seems to be an issue because doctors that I spoke to complain about the problem and had no knowledge of existing solutions. I presume existing solutions market trust by trust, similar to other healthcare providers. A potential new spin such as a bottom up sales strategy targeting doctors (who often move between trusts) or individual surgical departments may help increase adoption. Other growth hacking strategies include promotion at courses / conferences that target senior physicians / surgeons / decision markets at hospitals.
We would provide a free quota to test the solution and gather sufficient data on returns on investment to then convince the individual trusts to pay for the solution.
Overall, I would highly recommend participating in a hackathon as it allows you to go accelerate and compress the thought process of developing a business case in a very short time frame. Whilst I believe there is a clear need for a more advanced patient engagement product , current providers with appointment reminder products would be well placed to fill the gap. The question remains how the NHS can incentivise them to further develop their product and help them scale as well as achieve product-market fit.