In January 2020, over 80% of GP appointments in the UK took place face-to-face. By June 2020, this number halved as the COVID19 pandemic spurred the digital transformation of healthcare.
The technology behind this breakneck shift was not invented overnight, however. For years prior to the black swan event, practitioners and innovators from around the world had been testing and developing frameworks and technology to make this possible.
One such innovator is practising paediatrician and Founder of Consultmed, Dr. Vikram Palit.
Working alongside the NHS as an innovation lead, Vikram saw a future where medical practitioners moved away from paper-based processes, building efficient alternative pathways for accessing healthcare and removing antiquated practices that had long been extinct in other industries. Upon returning to Australia in 2019, the reality he experienced was completely different.
Fast forward to today and his company, Consultmed, is well underway to axing the fax and bringing hospital processes into the 21st century. Here’s how we got here.
Solving from experience
“As a junior doctor, much of your time is spent doing mindless paperwork and admin... printing, scanning, faxing, uploading. The time that you spend with patients taking a history, examining, working out what’s going on and providing good care, that’s a small fraction of what we actually do on the wards.” This recognition kickstarted a journey across the world to dive deeper into medical innovation.
In 2016, Vikram set sail for the UK, diving into the world of digital health solutions alongside the National Health Service. Here, he sunk his teeth into the potential technologies that could revitalise archaic processes in hospitals, working on the rollout of several digital health applications, including the NHS electronic referral service.
When Vik came back to Australia in 2019, the chaos caused by the current paper-based system was glaring.
“In most hospitals around Australia, everywhere you look is paper. Overflowing clinics with paper referrals, sometimes ineligible, most times missing. Fax machines with urgent referrals sitting unaddressed for weeks, and frustrated patients having waited sometimes months for specialist appointments and being asked to return to their GP to get another paper referral.”
It was this unique appreciation of the problem, equipped with the know-how and an intricate understanding of the healthcare system, that led to Consultmed being born.
From idea to adoption
Every first-time founder hits the same question in their journey to launch. “How do we make this happen?” When Vik hit this question, he took his idea to people who have answered it a million times: successful entrepreneurs and accelerators.
In Consultmed’s early days, the team went through a series of accelerators and programs, drawing on them to propel different stages of the company’s development. While moving through these programs, Vikram noted one of the most valuable lessons he took from the experience.
“It's really important to keep testing new ideas and new ways to approach the problem because what you thought was the right or obvious answer at the start will probably change quite a bit by the time you get it right.”
For Consultmed, this lesson landed when they realised that changing medical processes was a workforce behavioural change, not just a technological change.
Customer empathy as a growth lever
Changing behaviour is near-impossible without a true understanding of, and empathy for the user. That’s why most of the core Consultmed team are clinicians with various other skills. Uniquely, Consultmed staff, including Vikram, also work clinically in the public healthcare system.
“It means our team has real credibility as practising clinicians, we can see what the problems are and work with other healthcare providers to answer them. We remain close to the problem, and I think that keeps us motivated. We’re doing this because there is a genuine interest to improve the system.”
This unique structure has helped them to understand the plight of overworked healthcare workers. They knew that to change behaviour, they’d have to remove all the friction of new software.
“We had to make our solutions easy and user-friendly and not expect staff to engage in never-ending training, like so many other healthcare applications. It had to be that simple and intuitive,” Vikram said when speaking about the approach.
Now, change management has become a staple of their development process. They don’t let a feature leave the house without being road-tested by a group of clinicians, healthcare administrators and patients.
Referrals are just the beginning
Consultmed’s vision is to partner with healthcare organisations to shape a digital, connected and data-driven future. When looking at their traction and the potential impact their software has on their industry, Vikram reflected that referrals are a gateway disruption in the healthcare system. Their positioning at the cross-section of many healthcare sectors has given them a deep understanding of the gaps in the industry.
Moving into the future, Consultmed sees the potential to revolutionise traditional pathways to care, using technology to improve access to specialist opinion and to keep patients better looked after at home. Consultmed’s ‘Advice and Guidance’ solution has been developed to directly address the current crisis in the acute hospital system, with overflowing emergency departments, ambulance ramping and elective surgery waiting times blowing out around Australia.
Using their A&G service, GPs and other primary care providers can securely and seamlessly access specialist advice remotely, preventing unnecessary and inappropriate hospital presentations.
Having recently joined Australian National University as an Associate Professor in Health Systems, Vikram has always applied a research lens to technology and innovation.
“Looking at the evidence where these types of [digital] systems exist, up to 20% of patients can be better looked after at home just by accessing specialist opinion through a portal like ours. It’s a unique offering and one that hospitals and secondary care providers can use to virtually triage and manage patients remotely, with expert advice.”
The pandemic gave us a glimpse of how technology can be used to deliver care effectively. Vikram and his team saw beyond that glimpse into the future and are helping to build the foundations of a more efficient and effective healthcare system; one that is evidence-based, sustainable and puts patients first.
Learn more about Consultmed and Dr. Vikram Palit.