Category Archives: Health

Let’s Kickstart Healthcare Crowd Funding

A big name on everybody’s lips at the moment is Kickstarter. For those of you who don’t know, Kickstarter is a crowd funding platform, allowing users to pledge money against a set target for projects that they are interested in and would like to see made a reality. So far, tech start-ups have enjoyed a great deal of success through the platform – an array of snazzy watches, cheap and clever games consoles and virtual reality peripherals have been, or are currently being, developed. In the sense that it’s allowing people to take control of what they are being sold, it’s utterly revolutionary, and one of the most important commercial ventures of this, or any, century.

However, an area that Kickstarter does not serve is health. This certainly isn’t down to nobody innovating in the healthcare space – Kickstarter just don’t do it. This includes any kind of fitness, baby, beauty or personal care product.

And, realistically, this is understandable. Erring on the side of caution, Kickstarter are unlikely to want to get behind a project that, at the time of fundraising, will likely not have obtained proper certification from strict healthcare authorities. Unfortunately, health is the area that needs it most. In a previous post, I talked about those little health gadgets that can make such an important difference to people’s lives. You may have noticed, reading that, that many of these were at a concept stage, awaiting a sympathetic ear for funding. This is, unfortunately  the death of so many of these neat ideas. Kickstarter, however, gives products outside of the health space room to grow – people see it, like it, and pledge. Some projects have reached $10 million in funding. Now, I like a Bluetooth-enabled watch as much as the next guy, but let’s face it – no one really needs one. Imagine what $10 million could do to bring true healthcare innovation into the home?

Thankfully, I’m not the only one who thinks we need to get behind some of these projects. A recent project, Medstartr, aims to fill the health-shaped gap in the Kickstarter plan by offering crowd sourced funding to health apps. However, projects so far are topping out at around $45,000 of funding, with many asking only for a couple of thousand here and there. With any luck, these numbers will grow as the project grows, allowing room to accommodate larger products and services.

Sadly, I have doubts. The allure of a small pledge to create a gadget you can buy cheaply is huge, but most people will only pledge money to a Medstartr project if and when it directly affects them. Many of the concepts, like the amazing PiOna injection device, could be built, tested, manufactured and distributed for the money that people pledge to a games console on Kickstarter, yet Medstartr will likely never reach those heights. At Frontera, we live by a mantra of the consumer taking control of their health. Let’s hope Medstartr will be the way forward.

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Is a paperless NHS a less secure NHS?

The idea of the NHS going ‘paperless’ has been floating around for as long as I’ve been writing healthcare blogs, and a lot longer besides. Indeed, writing about it all over again has me feeling all ‘deja-vu’.

In case you haven’t been following it, a paperless NHS is exactly what it says on the tin; everyone’s records centralised and accessible at the touch of a button. On paper, no pun intended, it’s a great idea. 1’s and 0’s can’t be misplaced, shuffled around into the wrong order or left on a bus. On top of that, ‘never events’ (instances of gross malpractice), as well as less major mistakes, would be much less prevalent, as it is much harder for the wrong information to be given to key people along the chain of care. Even in terms of money saving, a paperless NHS would make a considerable difference – Frontera is an office of around 20, and the money we spend on paper and ink is… well. We need to get our roof replaced a lot. Because the cost is through it.

So why has the idea taken quite so long to come to real fruition?

What it comes down to, I think, is fear of technology. Easy as it is to brush that off as something that people who don’t understand technology are always worried about, there is a case for it in some ways. Data is only as secure as the person least careful with a password, when it all comes down to it. The most robust security measures in the world can’t combat someone writing down their password, losing it, and not caring enough to report it as missing. Add to that all the recent cases of government officials losing laptops on trains, and you have a public that is rightly reticent about their medical records being ‘in the cloud’. A paperless NHS is a great idea, but the government is reviving the idea slap bang in the middle of the wrong time. Labour put the ‘NHS Database’ plan into action years ago, and the coalition scrapped it in 2011. Growing lack of faith in the coalition will now only be compounded by their weak revival of a plan they made such a noise, not to mention a multi-billion pound taxpayer loss, about scrapping not two years ago. Add to that the fact that nobody has forgotten about our Health Minister’s last job, that of Rupert Murdoch’s ‘Man in Havana’, and you have a 15-minute recipe for low approval ratings.

Money-saving and efficiency for the NHS is, arguably, the most important issue in UK politics at the moment. Going paperless is the right way to go, with predicted savings of £4.4bn year, but the public need to trust it. We work at the cutting edge of technology every day, but right now, I’m not even sure I trust it.

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Consumer Health Technology

Technology is the backbone of everything we do at the agency where I work, and we’re proud to sit firmly, legs dangling, on that cutting edge.

In the grand scheme of things, though, the amazing things that technology can do to make a client stand out pales in comparison and importance to what it can do for the health and wellbeing of their patients. And we’re not just talking about the incredible machinery that saves lives right at the front line. No; sometimes it’s the smaller things that can make a real difference. Things like:

GlowCaps

Alex Muller, junior brand manager, kindly shared this amazing product with me just the other day. He was the inspiration for this post, actually (thanks Al).

GlowCaps are alternative lids for prescription pill bottles. Able to screw onto most US retail pharmacy bottles, GlowCaps come fitted with glowing lights and wireless chips to gently remind you that you need to take your pills. They flash and call your phone when you need to take your pills, they send email updates to nominated friends, order refills and send a monthly report to you and your doctor.

PiOna

This one is at concept stage at the moment, but if it ever gets made, it’s another great example of one of those small things that makes a lot of people’s lives easier. Described as a ‘Star Trek’ style medical device, the PiOna addresses the problems of women undergoing in-vitro fertilization; namely the painful daily injections of progesterone in oil.

The PiOna is a device that not only hides the needle (sight of the needle itself being, psychologically, a big part of the stress behind self-injecting), but provides feedback about when the needle is ready to use and hand-holds the user through the process through audio and visual signals.

JettPak

Sometimes the simplest ideas are the most effective. The JettPak (again, at concept stage at the moment but hoping to be marketed this year) is an adjustable nebulizer, pure and simple. Children with asthma often need treatment with a nebulizer, but this involves wearing a mask and remaining upright – making it a worrying experience for children and one that, despite often being advised to the contrary, is impossible to administer while sleeping.

The JettPak, a sort of classic desk-lamp looking thing, is an adjustable nebulizer with a nozzle on the end, rather than a mask, meaning that kids can lie down and relax whilst the medication is administered.

To some, this kind of innovation can come across as gimmicky, or lazy, or unnecessary. This simply isn’t the case – for many, many people around the world, the problems that these products address can be truly debilitating, as small as they may seem to those of us lucky enough not to have to stick to healthcare regimes. Forgetting medication is something everybody does, but for some, forgetting a pill can be dangerous or even life-threatening. People who need to self-inject daily often register depression levels commensurate with people with cancer or HIV. And any product that improves the life of a child who needs at-home medical attention is a good thing.

The desire to push technology further is often prevalent in healthcare, but sometimes the focus can be on the bigger things, rather than the everyday. In health, as in communications, sometimes those little technological tidbits make far more of a difference.

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The Population’s Age is Growing, so Why Isn’t the Budget?

An article on the Guardian Healthcare Network today highlights the way in which Japan deals with the issue of an ageing population, an issue that healthcare companies in the UK are desperately trying to address.

Japan runs a ‘parallel scheme’, encompassing both regular medical care and social care for the elderly. Bear in mind that, in Japan, a baby girl can be expected to live to 86, a boy, 79, yet they manage to take care of their increasingly aged population with lower healthcare expenditure than the UK and Germany. This is, partly, attributable to Japan’s handle on costs being vice-like in comparison to the UK’s “chuck money in a sieve and see what we’ve got left in 10 years” approach. But the real masterstroke here is Japan’s Long Term Care Insurance System. The LTCI effectively creates a compromise position between families and the state in looking after the elderly – from the age of 40, everyone pays a little bit into the scheme and then, come the age of 65, you suddenly have a menu of social care assistance that you can take advantage of. Both families and the health system feel a relief on the burden of social care; hospital stays are reduced, and expenditure on the parts of both the family and the hospital is mitigated. Some charges are added, such as for ‘residential’ stays, but these are means tested.

The world economic climate at the moment, naturally, pushes any kind of scheme like this into the cold light of scrutiny, but it’s hard to believe, with expenditure in Japan so much lower than here, that a social care solution could be achieved any better. Without sounding too partisan, it’s also hard to believe that Andrew Lansley will come up with anything better. The population is ageing. Fact. We don’t really have a choice here; we have to do something.

What Japan has achieved is what we really need to focus on – breaking down the distinctions between different types of care. Health problems, whether age-related, physical or mental, all need to be addressed equally and without prejudice. They also need to be met through equal discourse between the population and the government, both locally and nationally.

The elderly, benefitting from home price increases, are sitting on a great deal of potential equity, but there is no robust method by which they can access that capital – capital that could contribute greatly to a scheme such as LTCI. The increased, and ever-increasing, age of the population is something that everybody is starting to worry about, but not necessarily addressing. In Japan, the LTCI scheme begins taking payments at the age of 40; if we were to start that planning ourselves, then we can avoid seeing the problems in our old age that the current elderly population are facing now. The unavoidable truth is that social care, whether packaged on an equal footing with all other elements of care (and with a redistribution of the, currently, way unequal healthcare budget) or seen as a separate section with a separate budget, needs more money. The Dilnot Commission, whose findings were published last year, proposes a similar scheme to LTCI; means tested payments coming from those who need nursing care, but when and if this will come into effect is still very much in question.

The question of where to find the money for a fairer social care budget needs to be answered, and answered soon – just as Japan did 12 years ago.

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