The acceleration of digital healthcare innovation as the legacy of the global COVID pandemic

The acceleration of digital healthcare innovation as the legacy of the global COVID pandemic

By The UK’s Department for International Trade 

“In normal times, innovation is a very slow and ponderous process, and it is particularly slow in healthcare.” — NHS Chair, Lord Prior, speaking at The Virtual MedTech Conference this week

As we know, these are not normal times, and the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated not only healthcare innovation but the application of it. UK MedTech companies and healthcare institutions have been leaders in this rapid transformation, developing trailblazing technology powered by AI and genomics; leading in telemedicine and applying innovations at scale through the NHS.

The NHS, with its deep data sets, has been leading this transformation for some time, partnering with innovative MedTech companies from the UK and the US. Last month, the service awarded funding through the AI in Health and Care Awards that will support research, development and trialing of promising new technologies in several NHS organizations. Winners include:

  • Ultromics’ EchoGo Pro: The EchoGo Pro uses AI and deep learning in its automated and scalable technology to measure and interpret ‘real world’ echocardiograms (ECGs) and predict prognostically significant cardiac disease. The UK company is also partnering with the US-based Mayo Clinic.
  • US-based iRhythm Technologies Ltd uses AI-led processing and analysis to provide technology that supports improved clinical workflows and diagnosis through ambulatory ECG monitoring.
  • Kheiron Medical’s deep learning software solves critical challenges in breast cancer screening programs, including reducing delays in screenings due to capacity issues.  The UK company also has an office in the US.

The Awards build on the NHS’s ground-breaking Test Beds program, which brings NHS organizations together with healthcare innovators to test new technologies in real-world settings.

Both efforts are part of the NHS’s mission to make its patients among the first in the world to benefit from new AI technologies. An example is HeartFlow, Inc.’s technology, which uses non-invasive deep learning, 3D modelling and highly trained analysts to derive more accurate diagnoses of heart disease. The US-based company’s tech was recently rolled out in the NHS.

Telemedicine innovation has become invaluable during the pandemic, and innovative UK companies are bringing their expertise to the US.

  • Current Health, which has partnered with Mayo Clinic and Mount Sinai, offers a platform that uses daily insight from continuous wearable vitals monitoring alongside device integrations (from continuous glucose to spirometry) and advanced analytics to identify at-risk patients earlier and deliver intervention through virtual video visits and automated phone calls.
  • Visionable offers advanced video collaboration software to connect clinical teams and patients with advanced clinical needs such as cancer or heart disease treatment. The platform is currently used by 1.1 million patients per year and the company’s tech is in over 100 separate NHS organizations to deliver better patient care.

The UK established its leadership in genomics with the sequencing 500,000 whole genomes through the NHS Genomic Medicine Service and 500,000 whole genomes through the UK Biobank. Its ambition is to analyze 5 million genomes in total in the UK by 2023-24. Today, the University of Edinburgh as part of the GenOMICC consortium and Genomics England, is aiming to understand why some individuals suffered severe COVID-19 symptoms while others had mild symptoms by sequencing 35,000 genomes.

Last month, the UK released Genome UK: the future of healthcare. The new strategy will fuel even more projects in personalized medicine, prevention and research by harnessing the potential of advanced genome sequencing.

As a prime location to research, develop and evaluate MedTech products and services in the NHS, one of the world’s best healthcare systems, the UK is a launch pad for global market development supported by well-established, pragmatic regulatory and guidance agencies.  

“Looking back over the past six months, the access to healthcare digitally is not that high-tech, but when you add some AI triaging to that, it starts to get really interesting. When you look beyond just access to the remote monitoring of care, again it gets really interesting,” said Lord Prior at The MedTech Conference.

“We need to go from the grateful patient to the empowered consumer. The more data and the digital technology we can put in the hands of the consumer, the more powerful they will be. And they (the consumer) will drive change. In particular, I think they will drive the change from treatment toward prevention.”

For more about the UK healthcare ecosystem, visit or get in touch with DIT at [email protected].

About The UK’s Department for International Trade

The UK’s Department for International Trade (DIT) helps businesses export, drives inward and outward investment, negotiates market access and trade deals, and champions free trade. The UK is the home of MedTech innovation and a prime location to research, develop and evaluate products and services in the National Health Service (NHS), one of the world’s best healthcare systems.

The NHS services 66+ million patients with world-first programs that integrate genomics, AI, early diagnosis and preventative population medicine.

Thanks to a working partnership between the sector and the government, billions of pounds are being invested to deliver the next generation of life-changing treatments and technologies.

With leading global universities, expert research and data infrastructure and nearly 250,000 people employed in the industry, companies operating in the UK can tap into world-class science and a growing pool of talent.