Healthcare and industry must work together so partnerships can succeed

09 December 2020

by Luke Solon Director, Strategy&, PwC

Email +44 (0)7483 416426

Partnerships with technology and innovation companies will define digital transformation across healthcare. We believe the NHS can no more transform into a technology-driven organisation alone than it could start manufacturing all its own scanning equipment, or build hospitals using only NHS staff.

Our research – conducted with over 100 healthcare leaders across the NHS and social care, government, and industry, and 2,000 members of the public – supports this view. Most healthcare and government leaders think the NHS should co-produce solutions with industry; though software and technology leaders are more likely to suggest an off-the-shelf approach.

Why partner?

The value of partnership working has become acutely evident during the COVID-19 pandemic. Strong partnership working enabled sweeping, overnight changes across the healthcare system. As well as high profile, national partnerships, local partnerships between NHS and social care organisations and innovative companies have provided some real success stories throughout the pandemic. A proliferation of new software, changing pathways, new features and initiatives to support the health and care system have emerged across the country, with collaborative changes emerging across video consultations, virtual outpatients, and population health management.

We see three main reasons to partner externally over a build or buy approach:

  1. Access to skills, knowledge, and expertise

    Technology companies offer a wealth of specialised skills and experience from outside the traditional healthcare sphere. Though our healthcare system, and all the professionals who work in it, will need to become increasingly tech-savvy, there is much to be said for recognising where organisational strengths lie and maximising them through partnerships.
  2. Appropriate tailoring to meet challenges

    Partnering offers opportunities to customise technology solutions, where necessary, to overcome specific local issues. Though extensive tailoring can overcomplicate solutions and drive up cost, a degree of flexibility can make a tremendous difference to the success of a technology implementation.
  3. Better results through mutual investment and benefit

    A partnership approach allows both parties to develop an effective, trusted relationship built on mutual investment and aligned goals. Ensuring technology companies are directly invested in the success of their solution with a healthcare partner helps to deliver better results.

However, there is a web of support in partnering with the NHS and its complexity forms a barrier to entry

There are many mechanisms for driving partnerships and technological change in the NHS, operating in different ways and targeting different organisations. But, despite some successes, this many-pronged approach isn’t working, with ambitious targets repeatedly missed, so the NHS and the government need to rethink.

Our research shows that technology companies see the NHS as challenging to do business with, thanks partly to the proliferation of technology standards, frameworks, and strategies. NHSX must reduce the barriers that this complexity brings.

COVID-19 has shown how a simple solution can work effectively. Clear, explicit and bold guidance issued during the pandemic meant there was more progress in weeks around data sharing and remote consultations than in years previously.

Encouraging hyper-collaboration could drive innovation

The NHS needs to engage in hyper-collaboration - bringing together the ideas of start-ups, experienced players, clinicians and research organisations, to improve products and ultimately outcomes.

It involves accepting that many of the problems the NHS faces will have already been solved by external companies and research organisations - and building meaningful partnerships with those prepared to collaborate on mutual terms.

Those looking to partner with the NHS should do so based on patient outcomes, not process measures.

“Whoever owns the data owns the customer”

Of the 2,000 UK adults we surveyed before the pandemic, 65% are happy for the NHS to share their anonymous data with a large technology company if it improves efficiency, such as the NHS making a profit to pay doctors and nurses; 62% are happy if the profit goes into general NHS budget; and 60% are happy if the technology company uses the data to create treatments for a specific disease.

With the public willing to share its data, partner organisations and the NHS need to understand the value they’re getting from it. For the NHS that includes access to rigorous R&D and disruptive technologies; access to a disruptive working environment and culture; and access to capabilities and talent. For technology companies, partnership with the NHS provides a gateway to the UK population, £20bn worth of business, and a sales pitch to use elsewhere in the world.

NHS bodies must use patient data wisely and be transparent about the value that comes from it. Patients should be able to withdraw consent for data to be shared with private companies if value isn’t achieved.

You can read more about our recommendations in our ‘Getting the partnerships right’ essay.

by Luke Solon Director, Strategy&, PwC

Email +44 (0)7483 416426