How to bulletproof your HealthTech startup from changing NHS priorities and stretched resources

The NHS, and healthcare systems globally, have had to scrutinise how their increasingly scarce resources are being used. At a national level, the NHS is being asked to reduce spending in real terms to bring it closer to pre-pandemic levels, while simultaneously being asked to prioritise tackling the post-pandemic backlog. The system is consistently being expected to strive towards doing more, with less.

At a local level, this scrutiny on budgets is heavily felt on the frontline, with staff feeling overstretched and underappreciated. Experienced staff are leaving in their droves and are being replaced by less experienced staff, who might take longer to make decisions or make more mistakes, further exacerbating the issue.

HealthTech companies are innovating in exciting ways to help solve precisely this efficiency problem. There are many companies offering creative solutions to reduce the burden on frontline staff, improve care and make the patient journey more efficient.

Counterintuitively, the feeling of being stretched and at breaking point can make it more challenging for new HealthTech products to be taken up by NHS teams. Staff already feel that they don’t have the time and headspace needed to properly consider and implement something new, or they might worry that it won’t deliver impact in the long-run. This leaves HealthTech companies constantly needing to prove they are a ‘must have’ rather than a ‘nice to have’ – despite the fact they often have the potential to significantly save financial and operational resources.

I’ve spent the past seven years immersed in this world. I’ve had to educate the market alongside making a case for ImproveWell - a platform to collect real-time feedback from healthcare workers to make improvements in the quality of care. And I’ve done this through the COVID-19 pandemic and its aftermath. I hope my learnings will help other HealthTech startups to prepare for what is set to be another few challenging years in healthcare, to help them cement their product as essential for the NHS, its staff and patients.

My first strategy to bulletproof your HealthTech startup against ever-changing NHS priorities is to carefully select your target customers. Instead of focusing solely on opportunities that may bring the highest financial returns, find ways to prioritise organisations that align with your values. These values will not change and will ensure teams feel more invested in making your product launch a success - especially when navigating bumps in the road. Once implemented, products that clearly align with values at a local level are more likely to withstand top-down changes in priorities.

Secondly, designing your solution with your customers means you truly understand the pain points. The ImproveWell team has invested heavily in taking a bottom-up approach to implementation. No two NHS teams want to engage their staff in exactly the same way, so our entire service offering - from the design of the software through to the people and process behind making it stick - is tailored to what they need. By taking this strategic approach, we end up more deeply embedded in healthcare systems and our customers share their valuable learnings with other organisations.

Finally, articulating a clear return on investment (ROI) is crucial to securing buy-in from NHS stakeholders. Evidence is important but there is also an inherent belief in the NHS that what worked in one part is not fully transferable to another. It’s important to acknowledge this, while also explaining where evidence for your ROI is applicable on a national scale. It’s also crucial to showcase the qualitative alongside the quantitative. At a time where recruitment and retention are at the heart of ensuring the NHS has a sustainable future, make sure you articulate ROI in terms of employee wellbeing and engagement, alongside financial benefits.

By tailoring your customer target list to those that share your values rather than those that bring in the most value, making your offering a bespoke partnership rather than a product, and clearly articulating your ROI, your startup can not just weather the storm but thrive in it.