Innovators developing drugs have a clear, if complex, path to market, but what about digital health entrepreneurs?

MedCity’s first event, held in June as part of London Technology Week, brought together around 50 innovators, clinicians and investors focusing on digital health to debate the issues and help set MedCity’s strategy.

Access to funding is a perennial focus for all small and medium sized businesses. For early stage digital health enterprises, however, this startup funding was deemed less important a problem than opportunities to work with clinicians and test beds to demonstrate the effectiveness of the new device or technology.

“The NHS could specify the problems they want addressed – put a package out, scoped and ready to be worked on,” suggested one entrepreneur.

Currently no clear protocols exist for trials or pilots and entrepreneurs attending the event were keen to see more guidance. Lack of clarity around proof of concept and regulation remains an issue throughout further business development stages, attendees agreed, which presents challenges in defining quality and value, and validating claims. Ideas suggested to address this situation include the development of certification criteria, a recognised journal publication route or quality mark system.

Although attendees did not view access to funding as a big issue at start-up stage, they highlighted scale-up investment as a barrier to growth, since the NHS does not fund preventative healthcare innovation well and payment by result is not sufficient for business growth. Confusion around NHS procurement was also raised, and the group agreed that a map of how the NHS innovation adoption system should work would be a useful tool.

Other tools for digital health innovation suggested by entrepreneurs included help to navigate support services and offers, access to labs and digital health workspace, ‘open surgeries’ for legal, regulatory and other advice, and links with venture capital and angel networks.

Work to further understand and address the issues raised at the event will be led by Sarah Haywood, MedCity’s acting Chief Operating Officer. She says:

“Digital technology is an increasingly important and powerful part of healthcare. Innovations ranging from smartphone apps that can monitor health, share data, and nudge behaviours to large-scale IT solutions to join up health systems have huge potential to improve health, and save time and money for both healthcare professionals and patients.

“The big message from our event is that the route to get these innovations into the healthcare system is not yet clearly marked out, which is frustrating for businesses and delays access to useful technologies for care professionals and patients. There is definitely an opportunity here for MedCity to work with everyone involved to bring clarity to a very complex environment.”