It is becoming something of a cliché to say so now, but the pandemic has driven the pace of innovation like never before. The digital health marketplace is flourishing with a bewildering array of software, applica­tions and services, catering to every patient and clinical need, thanks to collaborative solutions in digital health.

No more is this the case than for the newly formed Integrated Care Systems (ICSs), for which innovation is both a key driver and a key challenge. Born out of ‘a plan for the health needs of the population’, their remit is to identify and take advantage of the opportunities for healthcare transfor­mation.

On the face it therefore, this has opened the door to new opportunities, both for NHS providers, but also smaller supplier organisations who are seeking to make their mark in the digital health world. Previously (in STP’s and earlier incarnations), such opportunities may have been restricted to a handful of ‘big name’ clinical systems providers. The oppor­tunity now is for a paradigm shift in thinking and procurement; one which puts much clearer emphasis on a ‘best-of-breed’ approach to patient care, delivering benefits in efficiency, clinical effectiveness, and value for money.

For SMEs at the forefront of digital innovation, this presents a golden opportunity to create a shared vision and bring expertise and innovation together to deliver better patient outcomes and seamless clinical experiences.

Bringing organisations (and minds) together in this way across the health­care sector can deliver demonstrably better results than any single supplier can deliver by itself. It can accelerate digital transformation, enable better multi-disciplinary working, and improve patient care.

How, then, can the NHS leverage the power and clear benefits of this collaborative approach?

The first step is to accept that there is no single system which can solve every problem straight out of the box. Clinicians, administrators, and purchasers must collectively buy into the truism that suppliers working in their respective areas of expertise can deliver a whole that is much greater than the sum of its parts.

Trust is a necessity in this vision. The famous phrase ‘nobody gets fired for buying IBM’, originally coined in the technology industry, is equally befitting of healthcare. It comes from a time where deploying an IBM system was seen as the safest bet. Stick with the megabrands…play it safe…maintain the status quo. Hardly a fertile environment for innovation. All of which means that the NHS, a traditionally risk-averse organisation, must be willing to trust smaller suppliers and give them a chance to prove their worth.

The NHS wants to be open to new ways of working, but at the same time will frequently only procure tried and tested solutions. It cannot do both. And the great irony is that smaller, specialist suppliers (who are typically perceived as riskier) may actually be better-equipped and more responsive to their client’s needs than their larger counterparts.

So, what about SMEs?

How do SMEs make the pitch for collaborative solutions in digital health in an environment that, traditionally, has been dominated by larger suppliers?

A proactive and open-minded approach is crucial. Digital health companies cannot be reactive and simply wait to see what requirements come out of the newly formed ICS structure. They are culturally well attuned to solving complex problems such as those presented by the ICSs and must take the initiative in forming the solutions.

Not only can they provide a much richer solution which delivers value across the whole patient pathway, but more importantly they can evolve responsively and innovate continu­ously to meet the constantly changing needs of their users. The onus is on them to present this vision proactively, before the NHS can fall back into the evolutionary dead-end of old, rigid procurement patterns.

The new ICS structure will present challenges not seen before.

Therefore, in addition to being integrated care systems, they will need to be innovative care systems. An alignment of vision amongst suppliers and a truly collaborative environment will allow this innovation to flourish.

To find out more about EIDO’s partnership activities, and how you can be involved in a growing collaborative partner ecosystem, please view our partner webpage or contact

This post was written by Phil Evans, Director of Partnerships at EIDO Healthcare