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Richard Craven 14 December 2020 Blog

How Covid will shape the coming year and help to change pathology forever

Richard Craven, chief executive of CliniSys, considers how the tumultuous events of 2020 will impact on 2021, and how they will affect the company, the NHS, and the world of pathology for years to come.

Twenty-twenty was an exceptional year. I doubt any of us will forget the arrival of the coronavirus or the impact it had on our NHS, our working lives and our family lives. The impact of Covid-19, and our response to it, will shape next year and will be felt well into the future.

So, here are my top ten thoughts on how Covid-19 has changed CliniSys, the NHS, pathology and the clinicians and patients it serves, and how we will all continue to feel its effects in the future.

One of the things that has worked exceptionally well for us as a company is remote working. I know people value the flexibility it offers and the way in which it has enabled them to achieve a much better work-life balance. It has also made us more outcome focused: within limits, people can do what they need to do when they need to do it. That will continue: not just in 2021, but probably for the rest of our working lives.

As the UK went into its first lockdown in March, I thought we might close all our physical offices or downsize them hugely. Now, I don’t believe that will happen, but I do think that the office will change. Our office in Chertsey is showing the way and we are looking for a more contemporary office space for our Glasgow teams. It will be much more café-style: a place where people can meet together as a team, redouble their energy and enhance their creativity by being together before they return to remote/flexible working until the next office-based get together.

We have seen the changes at CliniSys reflected in our customers. The NHS has gone through a very rapid uptick in terms of the adoption of digital technology, but we are only just at the start of that. There has been a significant adoption of remote working and virtual consultation technology, but the next step will be a move towards digital everything: health and wellbeing advice, remote follow-up and monitoring, patients becoming more active participants in their care via apps and other digital technologies.

Twenty-twenty is going to lead to some permanent changes to pathology services. We have seen a huge investment in testing to track the spread and impact of Covid-19 and I think surveillance will get more investment and development. Some of that will be about making sure we are ready for the next public health incident. But there will also be further investment in diagnostic services and technology to increase capacity as demand for diagnostic testing increases and as new diagnostic innovations become mainstream.

Twenty-twenty has also underlined the importance of data. In the absence of good data, decision makers and clinicians have struggled to make good decisions about Covid-19. CliniSys processes data for something like 60% of pathology in the UK, so we need to help our clinicians to use that data to manage their business, predict and manage demand, speed up and aid diagnosis and fully digitise processes.

We also need to start joining up pathology data with other kinds of medical data, from the observations that doctors and nurses make, to the genomic information that will be handled by our new genomics LIMS, GLIMS Genomics. We continue to develop ways in which our software can link to the collaborative tools that so many people have started using this year, so we can get data into multi-disciplinary team meetings and other settings where clinicians are discussing results and taking treatment decisions.

We continue to explore how AI and machine learning can further enhance our solutions so that, as diagnostic data becomes fully digitised, smart use can be made of data to help our customers run their labs and clinicians at the workbench make better, more informed decisions. As this happens, pathology will move from the back room to its rightful place at the heart of the clinical process.

“If people can work from anywhere, they will work from anywhere. We have already seen this in radiology; radiologists have set up at home or in shared offices in ways that suit them, with large, high resolution screens, and instead of them going to work, work has come to them. As digital pathology becomes the norm, I think we will see the same happen in pathology, which will enable pathologists to work for multiple hospitals and organisations. Our challenge will be to build tools to support them.

One of the first things that I learned in my career is that ‘there is no equilibrium in business’ and Covid has proved it. At CliniSys, we are thinking constantly about how to remain durable and relevant in a world that can change – snap of fingers – just like that. We need to help our customers respond to the new environment, whether that’s by doing simple things, like building some smarts into our Integrated Clinical Environment (ICE), to direct tests away from labs that are becoming overwhelmed, or complex ones, like developing technology that will meet the need of new services, like regional diagnostic hubs.

Finally, we should not forget about the patient. Even before the pandemic, people were starting to think about the Amazonification of healthcare services, and that trend has just been given a significant boost, as work, shopping and socialising has moved online. Patients are going to want to be able to order their own tests and get direct access to their results, book and cancel appointments. The immediacy of digitisation is something that healthcare is going to have to deal with and I expect it to have some interesting impacts in 2021 and beyond.