While the healthcare sector accelerates its adoption of app-based solutions to the current pandemic, those without access or know-how are at risk of being left behind.

That’s the view of Thomas Andrew Porteus, CEO and founder of Leeds-based HealthTech firm Iatro.

“The irony is that the patients left behind are often those who would most benefit from digital interventions,” he told BusinessCloud.

The firm, founded late last year, reports that as much as 60% of patients at any GP practice do not have access to, or confidence with a mobile phone – a disconnect compared to UK Mobile phone ownership figures.

Porteus said the largest cohort is the elderly who either do not have a mobile phone, or rarely use it. It also includes those with low dexterity and poor eyesight, which can limit smartphone use. Even technical limitations such as coverage is rural areas can contribute to the figure.

Porteus

Thomas Andrew Porteus

“We also have some early indications that for patients for whom English is not the first language, [a phone call] is easier to understand versus reading”, said Porteus.

“Medical practices are risk adverse and prefer not to use machine translation tools as they can’t verify it’s not been garbled in translation.”

In response, the firm has created a new piece of software which effectively turns a landline into a sort of smartphone through its voice messaging service (VMS) Iatro VMS.

GP practices types the messages they would like to send into the firm’s portal to either one patient, or a cohort of patients, and hits send.

The firm’s system then calls the patients, and can play a message or read out the message before recording any response, which include key presses.

Porteus, who previously worked at EMIS Group for the majority of his early career creating back office solutions and patient facing products, is one of three at the firm. Its investors and team are all HealthTech veterans.

iatro

The Iatro portal

“Technology such as video has been around for a while and is seeing expanded use during the crisis,” he said.

“I think the key consideration is how we can adapt technology so that it fit’s a wider audience.

“You will often hear people ask what that means for those without the technology to do so – the response is usually that it frees up resource in the system for those patients – however, that’s not equality of access.”

Porteus said that during COVID-19 the firm has been doubling down its efforts to communication to GPs the tools they need for communication with those isolating.

It is currently working on new features for its VMS, including automation pathways, so practices can create ‘routines’ and trigger specific actions on the back of patient responses. It is planning to grow its headcount over the next six months.

“Covid-19 will have a huge impact on the HealthTech market,” he said.

“Practices will see use cases for technology they may have overlooked previously, and have a new appetite to introduce new technology. We are agile enough to make sure we can help to support practices and expect to see significant growth.”