The 6 health tech product principles we follow.

by George Murgatroyd

Touch Surgery, developed by Digital Surgery. Interactive surgery for all.

 

Digital Surgery is a digital native company.

It was born in the 2000s. We use and leverage digital tech to help save lives. When we released our c-section CGI simulation on Facebook, it notched up 200 million views in a month (if you’re interested)

Our tech stack is almost 100% on cloud, our products are mobile first, and we leverage the incredible advantages this and other newer technology brings. From being able to switch the geographic region our data are hosted at almost the click of a button, to utilising hyper secure and trackable environments, we aren’t blocked by a legacy architecture.

So many health tech companies aren’t so lucky. A lot of them have to maintain outdated systems in perpetuity, ultimately and unfortunately at a cost to the customer.

When our app Touch Surgery was launched back in 2014, it harnessed the opportunities mobile & digital offered, and because of this, we have been able to transform how surgical education is delivered and accessed (don’t take our word for it — there’s a whole host of independent academic research backing this up). Our mobile first, interactive approach was disruptive at the time. Unfortunately, five years later, for end users within the healthcare space, our approach still is an exception rather than a rule.

Healthcare IT facepalm: a common reaction amongst physicians

 

In general, healthcare software and technology does not have a good reputation. The recent feedback from a survey undertaken in the UK on healthcare tech found fairly startling levels of despondency amongst end users. Clunky user interfaces and limited interoperability often conspire against physicians and healthcare professionals. “It takes me 23 clicks just to enter a patient’s name” was one recent complaint I heard from a frazzled administrator.

On the one hand, the wider health tech supplier community should and must acknowledge its general lethargy towards innovating. On the other, the healthcare sector hasn’t always made (and still doesn’t make) things easy for newer, digital native companies.

At the recent (and fantastic) Healthcare Datapalooza event I attended in Washington DC, there was vocal debate about whether it was still too early for hospitals to adopt cloud to host data (AWS first launched in 2006…). I understand and indeed sympathise with this nervousness — no one wants to risk a data breach — but then again, last year at a major hospital I saw shopping trolleys piled high with patient notes left unattended in a public corridor. As a patient, do you want your confidential notes highly encrypted, behind authorisation and authentication engines, or do you want them there for the taking? Do you want them on paper and inaccessible, or available, securely, on your phone?

 

Left: A credit card imprinter (yes, this is how you used to pay). Right: the NHS child health record — which is issued to every baby born (approx 650,000 per year in England). Hopefully soon to be defunct.

 

Back in the mid-2000s, when I was working on creating electronic referral forms for physicians, I probably would have, if I’m being honest, predicted a largely paper-based healthcare sector some 15 years later. I can’t remember the last time I received a bank statement through the post. Or the last time my credit card was carbon copied by a shop assistant to be posted off to the bank (surely at some point in the 1990s). Yet all my family’s hospital appointments are still mailed out. My children’s growth charts are plotted in pencil on a chart in a book we have to bring to appointments (this is thankfully now being digitized by the NHS).

What I didn’t necessarily predict was that so many software and healthcare IT products would have continued to lag behind other sectors. This isn’t to say there isn’t a cadre of amazing health tech companies trying to transform the status quo. A lot of the established companies are putting huge resources into overcoming their legacy limitations. But problems persist every day for end users.

Tracking a pizza in real time via an app: is pizza flow more important than patient flow?

 

Why, I asked a Google exec a little while ago, can I track my takeaway pizza from order, right through to an alert saying it’s almost at my door, on a simple phone app, but am left for hours sat in a hospital wondering where my relative is following an operation, in a mild state of panic? A mild state of panic also felt by the staff, who were also unaware of the whereabouts of their patient. Is patient flow more important to solve than pizza flow? Evidently not, from personal experience.

I tell my colleagues, who haven’t worked in the healthcare space before, that it’s not uncommon to see hospital and primary care users access software using IE6 (ARGHHHHHHhhhhhh) or IE7 (urgh). That probably thousands of patients get sicker or worse every day because healthcare IT systems don’t talk to each other. That some US physicians spend more than two thirds of their time trying to wrangle with their EMR — which has been directly linked to doctor burnout — leaving them scant time for patient interaction. Eric Topol — a leading healthcare thinker — has said he thinks one of the biggest advantages AI could bring to healthcare would be increasing the time doctors spend with patients. Less time typing and more time treating. Bravo.

 

Well, as I said earlier, Digital Surgery was born in a cloud, and we intend to keep using technology to our users’ advantage. Fast forward a few years from our inception, and Digital Surgery is now providing our technology — both hardware and software — to hospitals around the world. To help make sure we build the best products we can, at the start of the year, we created a set of principles to guide us. We reflected on everything I’ve touched on above, on our countless conversations with surgeons and users of our apps, and we wanted to set out our own manifesto.

Our principles exist to make sure everything we do is focused on the end user, and focuses our internal teams on overcoming the mistakes healthcare tech has made. We want to learn from the past so that our current and future products are as good as they can possibly be. So in this blog, I’ve decided to openly share the product principles we have adopted as a company. We won’t get all of them right all the time (apart from the first one, which is non negotiable), but our whole team filters everything we do through this framework.

So here are our product principles.

 

All our products will..

 

  1. be secure by design.

    Security is the most important foundation of our products. We take security and privacy as the most important underpinnings of our technology, and build them into our products from inception.

  2. solve known — and unknown — user problems, seamlessly.

    We exist to solve real problems our end users continually face, and we solve them in clever and easy ways. Our products will make our users’ lives easier.

  3. be self explanatory.

    Our users should be able to use our products without the need for manuals or additional support. Where they do need help, they should be able to get this in an instant, without any hassle.

  4. integrate and interoperate.

    Healthcare tech has been and still is too siloed. We will ensure our tech connects to external applications and data in order to make our users’ lives easier.

  5. engage and inspire users.

    We want our users to value what we do. So we need to always work hard to gain their trust and loyalty in inspiring, exciting ways. We will ask for feedback and act on it.

  6. make money.

    Without revenue, we cannot run. But we will find the most efficient ways we can to make our products affordable.. We recognise that in healthcare, money can be spent on many important things, and we consider it a privilege that healthcare organisations and professionals give us their money.

 

 

Download the Touch Surgery app — 5 million people already have.