The role of media and marketing in spreading innovation in the NHS


Adoption and diffusion of healthcare technology faces many barriers, including the challenge of bringing buyers and innovators together. Raising awareness through more active media engagement can help address this challenge, writes Highland Marketing’s senior account manager Rebecca Mellor.

Adoption and diffusion of new healthcare technology faces many barriers, despite the global trend for investment in digital transformation as new technologies emerge. However the UK health sector is yet to join this journey; according to the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), “[the] England and Wales NHS is not as effective as it could be at adopting new technologies and allowing or encouraging them to spread quickly”.

It is a situation that has long been recognised. In a key report on innovation in healthcare, Innovation, Health and Wealth, the Department of Health (DH) concluded: “Whilst we are good at inventing and developing new technologies, the spread of those inventions within the NHS has often been too slow, and sometimes even the best of them fail to achieve widespread use.”

The IPPR’s report identifies three barriers to adoption which are: bringing buyers and innovators together; ensuring the NHS seeks out innovation; and allowing money to flow around the NHS.

Initiatives such as the NHS Innovation Accelerator and Accelerated Access Review look to address some of these barriers, by earmarking funds and encouraging clinical leadership to help spread the use of technology in care.

However, alongside this lies the challenge of bringing buyers and innovators together, and raising awareness of the possibilities that digital health provides.

This is something that can be addressed very effectively with appropriate PR and marketing activity, working in partnership with the NHS, the supplier, and the media.

By working together, increased knowledge of what is available can help address that lack of awareness of new solutions to solve problems that can result in further costs for the NHS.

Connecting healthcare services is a key objective for the NHS, and the latest technology enables this ambition. Without knowledge of this technology, decisions can be made based on outdated information, resulting in investments in equipment that becomes quickly obsolete, and which sparks the unwanted need for further procurement.

Recognising where innovation comes from
Speaking as someone with direct experience of working with a supplier looking to market their technology to the NHS, this can be frustrating.

Suppliers are a rich source of innovation as, at the core of any supplier organisation are teams of innovators and developers working in conjunction with end users to solve the very problems the NHS needs to enable transformation of services. This often gets overlooked due to the commercial aspect of the supplier, NHS and media relationships.

Yet the problems these teams solve have a significant impact on the NHS and the patients it serves, often leading to more lives being saved. The reduction in cardiac arrests at one Scottish hospital was the result of an automatic early warning system they had implemented.

The innovators behind this new technology choose to dedicate their time to solving these problems, and as often found in healthcare, it can also be a very personal mission for the individuals involved.

Innovators can also be visionaries, able to step back and see a future which the rest of us neither have the capacity nor the luxury of time to consider. Yet this foresight is crucial to the continuous improvement of our health service, and at times these pioneers can feel like outsiders to healthcare, trying to make their voice heard on how they can help solve the problems that are frequently discussed within the NHS.

It is a point recognised in the DH report, which noted that insufficient recognition of innovators was one of the main barriers identified to successful diffusion of new technology in the NHS.

Search friction is set to increase the barriers to adoption
So how can we help healthcare organisations to find and embrace the innovators and the technology being developed?

Once technology solutions have passed the necessary accreditation criteria and proof of concept is gained (through a pilot study for example), the initial activity for the marketing team is to raise awareness. This is a key first step, not least because of its power to prompt new thinking and open people’s eyes to new possibilities, but because it enables the buyers to find the innovators.

However, awareness is one of the biggest challenges facing innovators. It is referred to as ‘search friction’ in the IPPR report. Search friction is a form of market failure caused by asymmetric information because innovators and buyers within the NHS often have difficulty locating each other.

And this search friction will inevitably worsen, as the market becomes more crowded as the number of new entrants providing tech solutions continues to rise. According to Deloitte, the UK market size for digital health is expected to grow to £2.9bn by 2018. Between 2009 and 2012, the number of companies increased by 12%, their combined turnover by 50%, and this is set to increase further. The mHealth apps sub-sector is predicted to be the fastest growing segment in digital health, with a compound annual growth rate of around 35% in the UK between 2014 to 2018. It is getting noisier by the minute.

How the media has helped one company raise awareness across the NHS
For my colleagues working in healthcare technology marketing and PR, helping buyers become more aware of the possibilities technology can deliver, can prove to be our greatest challenge. I believe greater awareness can help mitigate search friction, and one of the key channels which can achieve widespread awareness is the media.

A positive example of the role that media can play in achieving awareness is that of Patientrack (the innovator), where this channel was used to obtain significant exposure on the benefits of its solution both across Scotland and the wider UK.

National, regional and trade press and broadcast, reported extensively on the outcomes of Patientrack being deployed at NHS Fife. A campaign, resulting in 50+ pieces of coverage, also helped lead to introductions and meetings for the company with key influencers involved in the Scottish eHealth market. The story has also been received at ministerial level in the Scottish government.

But crucially, it led to other NHS boards in Scotland visiting NHS Fife to learn more about the technology and the improvement it was making to patient safety and the quality of care . The impact of the media’s role in this scenario has been to raise awareness amongst Scottish boards and to help inform their own future strategies and procurements.

Supporting the NHS in finding new technology
Applying this level of exposure in a targeted way across all new technology announcements has the potential to bring buyers and innovators together more successfully. The challenge often faced by marketers is a reluctance by some of the media to take a more positive approach in amplifying the voice of innovators and the ‘good’ they are delivering. Surely there is a role for the media to help spread ‘best practice’ so everyone can benefit.

The fact remains, innovators are working to solve problems and improve our future. Collectively we must play a role in raising awareness of these technology developments  to help the NHS find them so as to support smart and future proof decision making. Are the media being used in the right way in this regard? Is there an opportunity to develop the media/innovator relationship to support the needs of the NHS? How do we begin to make the most of what we can all bring to driving change that will benefit all involved?

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