If things had worked out differently the name Matt Orr might have been associated with creating Just Eat, which has a valuation in the region of £5.5bn, instead of working a GP.
My ‘what if’ moment highlights the fact that having a great idea isn’t enough in business.
So what’s my story? I qualified as a doctor in 2000 and became a GP in 2004. At about the same time my brother and I saw all these takeaways selling food and had our eureka moment. ‘Why not use technology to help people order more easily?’
We set up a website – which we named Whereisthemenu.co.uk – which would allow customers to publish their menus online.
We then started to contact loads of restaurants and takeaways but we struggled to convince them to use the platform and the idea eventually faded away. It was a great idea, but too early in the life of the internet.
Ten years later along came Just Eat and the rest, as they say, is history. I joke that I was a ‘man before my time’ but there’s a serious lesson.
Just Eat benefited massively from the growth of mobile handsets. It was a perfect storm. These days millions of us pick up the phone to order that Friday night curry. Everyone is connected and constantly using the internet – it’s the way we live our lives.
Look at pretty much any walk of life and you’ll see that technology has changed it in the same way it’s transformed takeaway food.
Thanks to online banking you can transfer money in an instant; you can sort out mortgages online without ever seeing a real person; and when you shop on Amazon and Argos, you can arrange for same-day delivery. In London, you can even have something delivered within an hour. Uber has changed the way we travel.
Despite all this, the healthcare system relies on very old technology. People still receive appointment reminders in the post, they have to telephone at 8am to arrange to see a GP and might be waiting in queue for 40 minutes. Appointments are done face-to-face.
Next year I’ll have been a doctor for 20 years and although there have been improvements in the way the health service uses technology, we are miles behind other sectors.
A lot of patients who come in to see their GP assume automatically that you can see their medical information from other areas of the NHS –but often you can’t. We work on so many different systems which don’t talk to each other… we should be there, but we’re not.
The NHS doesn’t have enough workforce or funding, while there are lots of gaps in the service. It is under immense pressure and faces the biggest challenge in its history at a time when the opportunities made possible through technology have never been greater.
I’m a massive advocate for tech. As NHS digital lead for Greater Preston and Chorley & South Ribble CCGs, my job is to try and bring primary care into the 21st Century using modern technology. We could fill some of the gaps in the NHS if we made things more efficient and saved staff time – for example, by allowing people to book online or by dealing with common complaints by online consultation.
This week NHS England unveiled its ten-year digital strategy and pledged to give all patients access to digital GP consultations within the next five years. The Government has now woken up to the fact that people want to deal with the NHS in the same way they do everything else – be it banking, shopping or applying for a passport. They want convenience and speed.
Babylon Health already has a foothold in the NHS in London, partnering with a local GP practice to give patients access to remote consultations for free via the NHS. There is a large group of the population who want and are suitable for remote consultations, the NHS has a huge opportunity here to manage this group of patients in a more efficient way using digital services.
Research shows that age is no barrier when it comes to using technology to access NHS services. There is a huge proportion of older people who are tech-enabled, with only a few areas at the topmost age group lacking smartphone or internet access.
The real barrier is at the NHS end of things. Unless the health sector raises its game, the NHS will struggle to meet rising demand.
Thankfully it is now starting to make inroads, but it is leaps and bounds behind commercial organisations when it comes to adopting tech.
There is a lot of ground to make up. I’m determined to play my part – unless I launch the next Just Eat that is.