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Digital health technology consultancy Healthwave is helping to make digital healthcare services more inclusive and accessible for everyone. Find out how.

In recent years, the digital healthcare sector has seen significant growth both in Cornwall and beyond – and for good reason. Access to digital services can transform how patients receive care and how healthcare professionals deliver it, making support, advice and treatment more accessible for everyone.

But creating valuable, inclusive digital healthcare services isn’t an easy task. To be successful, new solutions must meet the diverse needs of patients, care providers, and the healthcare systems they support. That demands a new, collaborative approach to solution design – an approach being pioneered right here in Cornwall by co-design consultation and research firm Healthwave.

The lack of inclusivity in today’s healthcare services

When co-founders Oliver Sleeman and Rehan Symonds started Healthwave in 2018, they had one objective in mind: to make digital healthcare available to all. And that’s still true to this day.

“If there’s one thing we can learn from COVID-19, it’s the importance of ensuring every citizen can access convenient, effective healthcare – whenever and wherever they need it,” says Oliver Sleeman, Healthwave’s Company Director. “Digital healthcare services will be key to achieving this goal, but only if solutions are inclusive and accessible to all.”

The organisation aims to address the disconnect between patients, doctors, and other healthcare service providers. And in a year where physical access to doctors has been restricted, the founders have seen the cost of limited digital inclusivity first-hand.

“Care homes were left particularly vulnerable, with an aging population to care for, little hands-on support, and very few digital solutions in place to connect them to GPs,” says Rehan Symonds, co-founder and CMO of Healthwave. “And despite the pandemic accelerating digital delivery service, there’s still a way to go.”

“The unique pressures of 2020 required the healthcare industry to adapt at speed, leading many to develop and deploy solutions quickly, without thorough testing. The overwhelming result has been tools that met an immediate need, but do little to improve long-term digital inclusivity.”

Instead, Healthwave is driving a shift to long-term thinking – to ensure healthtech solutions deliver real, future-proof value, and improve the quality of care for everyone. And for the founders, that means expertly-crafted solutions designed to deliver lasting results, that meet the diverse needs of the people actually using them.

Oliver Sleeman

Co-design: the future of digital health

With backgrounds in healthtech and frontline medical practice, both Oliver and Rehan knew just how powerful digital health services could be. But they’d also seen first-hand the challenges surrounding the industry, especially when it came to solution design.

“There are so many digital health projects, companies and services available, but when we started it was really hard to find evidence of a sustained, positive impact”, says Rehan. “We thought this was a result of products and services being created and then injected into the health system, rather than being developed and co-designed with end users in mind.”

Today, Healthwave engages with communities via a range of partnership activities while using a mix of wide and shallow bespoke surveys, deep and narrow qualitative data analysis and user experience sessions to inform impactful, research led initiatives to bridge the gap between healthtech innovators and end users.

This co-design approach is already helping the NHS work towards a sustainable digital future where services are accessible, inclusive, and beneficial for all. And Healthwave works directly with commissioning groups and local authorities, helping to refresh digital inclusion strategies and support the shift to online services.

“Part of what we do involves working with different healthtech providers and the entire health community,” says Oliver. “And insight without action is time lost.”

“So, after building evidence and doing the technical research during the co-design process, we link up various international and local healthtech innovators, as well as local services, and help them direct their firepower to solve these challenges.”

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Bringing global innovators together

Enabling inclusive digital healthcare delivery for all demands extensive collaboration. So, to deliver on their mission of democratising healthcare, Healthwave is connecting healthtech innovators across the South West, the rest of the UK, and beyond.

“We want to make sure we’re working with the best digital health providers from around the world, to solve challenges in Cornwall and further afield. And for healthtech companies looking to grow internationally, Cornwall provides a fantastic opportunity to do so.”

“We’ve been working shoulder-to-shoulder with some great people and organisations, like Cornwall Trade and Investment, to provide a fantastic experience for overseas organisations looking to make a mark on the UK health scene.”

By providing deep insights and co-design consultation for global digital health providers, Healthwave helps them address local challenges, test the viability of solutions, and establish widely sought-after NHS connections. And by welcoming global innovators into Cornwall’s growing healthtech ecosystem, Healthwave is helping turn Cornwall into a hub of healthtech innovation and excellence.

Cornwall: the perfect location for healthtech innovation

Cornwall’s aging population and diverse mix of demographics and locales create an ideal landing pad for healthtech innovators wanting to test digital services. Solving challenges here gives organisations the chance to prove the effectiveness of their solutions – and their worth to the NHS.

But it’s not just the unique healthcare challenges that make Cornwall so attractive to healthtech organisations. For Oliver and Rehan, the benefits for setting up Healthwave in Cornwall were obvious.

“We’ve got world-class academic institutions, highly-receptive GP networks with an appetite for digital health solutions, and community and secondary care providers embracing cutting-edge digital transformation,” says Rehan. “Not to mention the fantastic remote working lifestyle that Cornwall offers.”

“Cornwall has a thriving health sector, making it a great place to base any healthtech organisation, you’ve got people who can fill new jobs as you grow, and you can tap into brilliant skills and support.”

The company has also benefitted from Cornwall’s unique NHS landscape. There’s just one GP network – Kernow Health CIC – to deal with, which has been key in helping Healthwave engage and build relationships with the region’s GP, health, and care groups.

Exciting projects in the works for Healthwave

Since starting out two years ago, Healthwave has begun to revolutionise digital healthcare delivery in the South West with a number of exciting projects. One of these projects was a collaboration with the NHS in Somerset, to increase uptake for their new NHS app. The app aims to provide citizens with easily accessible information about their health and make it easier to access services, including repeat prescriptions or booking appointments.

Healthwave was responsible for gathering feedback from communities on the barriers preventing people from using the app, and presenting these insights to NHS policy and communication decision-makers. By helping improve the accessibility of the app, the company has driven uptake across Somerset and beyond, ensuring people can access information about their health and the NHS services available to them.

The company is also continuing to expand its innovative research movement and data analytics platform, having recently won funding from Innovate UK.

“The Innovate UK funding will really help us advance our technology solution, it’s changing how we store, analyse and present data to teams, helping us give a voice to those in the South West who can’t access the healthcare services they need. And more than that, this funding gives us an opportunity to accelerate the spread of innovation in healthcare, and build towards an inclusive digital future.”

Oliver Sleeman

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