Meet Elliott Engers, CEO and Co-Founder of Infinity Health. Infinity Health is a digital platform on which health and care staff can log, share and coordinate their daily care tasks in real-time. Read what Elliott has to say about helping to reduce the NHS backlog, the joys of going live and how the AHSNs are Infinity Health’s biggest allies.

Tell us about your innovation – what and why?

Outdated technologies are being used to coordinate care in the healthcare system. I don’t think that statement is particularly controversial, but what people might not realise is that use of these technologies is one of the root causes of patient safety issues. We know that over 60% of adverse events are related to poor communication at handover according to The Joint Commission’s Sentinal Event data, and poor communication is also the cause of a huge amount of inefficiency.

We have more patients waiting for care than ever before, and we have staff that are more burnt out than they have ever been. Throwing people at the problem is not going to solve it. We don’t have the money, the people that want to do it, the places in education to train them, or the people to train them, so we need to find ways to do more with the same resources. This is where we know technology can help.

Infinity is a task management platform that allows staff to coordinate care more safely and efficiently. Staff can see what needs to be done for each patient from the point of care, and can update the list of tasks in real-time, for example allocating new tasks to colleagues or marking their own as complete.

It not only helps resolve the communication issues mentioned earlier, but also saves a huge amount of time previously spent trying to find out information from busy staff. We tailor the platform to each local system’s needs, resources, and ways of working, so it’s not a ‘one size fits all’ solution, as that would never work in the NHS.

What was the ‘lightbulb’ moment?

My co-founder is a doctor in an NHS hospital. He used to talk to me about how he was using all these apps and consumer services in his personal life that were so fantastic, but then when he entered the hospital everything was analogue. He spent ten years pointing out his frustrations to me, and this was great fuel for a business idea.

We explored various opportunities, looking for a problem that a start-up would be best suited to solve. At the time, tools like Slack and Trello were emerging and we concluded that task management might be a real opportunity. It really crystallised one night when we met up and he had two printed spreadsheets related to surgical tasks folded up in his pocket. He was on the phone attempting to hand over medical tasks to the night doctor quietly in the corner of our office, passing on clinically critical information, late at night, whilst the other doctor scribbled down the information. It seemed like an incredibly brittle process to me and something that we could certainly use technology to improve.

Which AHSNs are you/have you been supported by?

The AHSNs are our biggest allies. We graduated from the DigitalHealth.London Accelerator and then moved on to the NHS Innovation Accelerator programme, both of which are supported and run by the AHSNs. We know the London AHSNs very well in particular. Each AHSN has different specialisms, for instance we’re currently doing some work with the health economists at Unity Insights which is a spin out from Kent, Surrey, Sussex AHSN. Imperial College Health Partners also have some great expertise in health economics evaluations, which we’ve benefitted from.

It’s been particularly important for us to engage with AHSNs to understand the local landscape, because we could then realistically tailor Infinity to support any set of tasks in healthcare. We’re constantly reframing what we do to meet the specific needs of the local system.

AHSNs are trusted to understand what’s going on in the market, what’s good and what’s not. Sharing information and having regular conversations with them is really helpful.

What’s been your toughest obstacle to date?

The integration with electronic health record systems (EHRs) is a perennial issue and there are significant technical barriers to solving the big problems behind this. Infinity is not going to solve them on its own, but hopefully we are doing our bit. We support all the open standards, and we make it easy for staff to sign into Infinity using single sign on.

Our biggest challenge is convincing people in the NHS that the resourcing issues are not going to be solved by throwing more staff at the problem, and that technology must play a role in creating capacity. You gain better data to make better decisions with Infinity, and patients will benefit from that. Generalising about the NHS is entirely wrong though, because there are obviously people within the system that don’t think like that.

What are your hopes for the future?

We’re currently part of an NHS England pilot programme to help reduce the NHS backlog by digitally-enabling Patient Initiated Follow-Up (PIFU). We are working with two NHS trusts, including Norfolk and Norwich University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, which has been highlighted as leading the NHS’s “most ambitious” PIFU project. The intention is that after a positive evaluation showing our impact, we’ll be able to roll out nationally – then we’ll really be able to make a big difference and get more patients into treatment more quickly. We are looking for the next five trusts to be part of the pilot, so that’s an immediate goal.

We’ve of course also got business goals around the number of users we’d like to reach and the amount of revenue we would like to generate. The truth is that the more users we have, the more benefit we’re providing to the NHS, because that’s how our business model works.

What’s the best part of your job?

It’s going live if I’m honest, the joy of that just doesn’t get old! You put a huge amount of time into getting initial interest from a customer, and then you go through the process of trying to understand their pain points, how their system currently works and how it might work better. Then we design a solution with them, bring more people in and a massive amount of planning happens around technical integration, information governance, clinical risk, quality and so on. You do all of this and then it goes live.

Seeing the reaction from the clinicians, knowing that you’ve actually solved the problem that you set out to solve is the most gratifying thing in my job. We always get excellent feedback from users, which adds fuel to the fire for the next go live.

Three pieces of advice for budding innovators?

  1. Listen and learn, I think that’s a universal bit of advice. Then you can use that knowledge to adapt.
  2. Once you’ve done that, you need to be persistent in your vision because you’re going to get a lot of people telling you that you can’t do it. You’ve got to have thick skin, but don’t be stubborn.
  3. Then finally, know that everything will take longer than you expect. I’m an eternal optimist, but it’s important to manage your own expectations and fund them accordingly. You definitely need to double the time that you think anything will take, especially in terms of adoption and growth.
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