How innovation is driving better patient care – and better paid jobs - for women in the Highlands and Islands

Published 14/05/2024 by Sacha Wright 6 min read

Sacha Wright

Guest blog by Sacha Wright, co-founder of Practest and winner of the 2024 Pathfinder Accelerate alumni pitching competition

The British Medical Association (BMA) found that 13.5 million hours of doctors’ work are wasted every year in the UK due to the time spent on inefficient processes and cumbersome patient communication systems. And I’d heard this first hand.

My father was a GP – a real family doctor, who knew not just the history of his patients but that of their whole extended family. He really instilled in me the value of caring for your patients and the real humanity of being with them from cradle to grave.

By instilling the fundamental values of good care in me while I was growing up with a willingness and desire to help, I too was keen to find solutions to support primary healthcare providers and the communities around them.

But my career path had taken me in a different direction. I spent a long time in financial services and digital banking development, working globally in Beijing, Melbourne and closer to home in London. I was used to the implications of heavy regulation and legacy systems, often fighting for customer orientated solutions in a world which was dominated by process and rigid systems. I have seen how a drive for efficiency can lead to a worse outcome for customers, meaning an overall decrease in effectiveness as customers have to call time after time to try and get their problems resolved.

I knew the right processes supported by technology could unlock these hours spend on admin to improve patient care. Healthcare services needed process redesign with digital tools. Usable tools. Tools that made sense.

This thought moved to fruition when my brother-in-law, who has a network of GP practices, had put in place a set of patient touchpoint tools for his own practices. He wondered if these tools could also help other practices and approached myself and my business partner, Owen Terry, who is also a global expert in digital development. Together, we created Practest – a user-friendly digital platform which would benefit both patients and care providers by streamlining administrative tasks.

But we needed to understand the market further to understand how it would fit into other practices processes and workflows. Whether we could seamlessly embed it and provide real tangible benefit to GP’s and their practices.

That’s when I joined Pathfinder Accelerator.

Over six years, Northern Innovation Hub’s Pathfinder Accelerator programme helped fast-track 194 Highland-based life sciences, technology, engineering, IT and healthcare businesses with a mix of workshops, masterclasses and remote 1-2-1 support, delivered by HIE and funded through the Inverness and Highland City-Region Deal.

The programme allowed me to focus on the development of Practest, asking tough questions around the business’s service solution; whether the market opportunity seemed credible? Viable? Scalable? And what we needed to really take this forward.

The programme taught us that customer insight would be key – and that you can do this from a very early stage of the business. This was absolutely terrifying as I would normally wait until much later in the design process to speak to customers – but it was so valuable. They taught us to focus on the ‘death threats’, the things that could really impact the business. They taught us not to shy away from the big questions.

I learned to hone my pitching skills to communicate the key business information in a concise manner to potential customers; and understand how to answer their questions – even while still in the conceptual stage.

It made us think bigger. Made us look at whether we could take this forward on a larger scale - and the impact of not rolling it out across the country. It inspired us to keep going.

Pathfinder is an accelerator programme but even still, these things take time. It doesn’t happen overnight. But it did open us up to an even wider range of support we could access, including support from other HIE programmes, Techscaler, Women’s Enterprise Scotland and AccelerateHER, as well as a community of entrepreneurs in the Highlands and Islands. After all, like raising children, it takes a village to create innovative and successful businesses.

 But I’m so glad to be able to announce that we’ve just taken on our first paying customer. Our goal is to onboard 10 GP surgeries this year.

You hear about the ‘squiggly career’ of an entrepreneur – the change, the uncertainty, the possibility. Dominic Cadbury famously said: “There is no such thing as a career path. It's crazy paving and you have to lay it yourself.”, but this is the way it often has to be. Especially living in a rural location. Especially as a woman. Especially as a mum. But I wouldn’t change my journey.

What I do wish I could change is the level of confidence many women in the Highlands and Islands have in pursuing their own business plans and careers.

Did you know that women are paid less in Orkney than anywhere else in Scotland? More than 24% less than men on the islands (source: The Office of National Statistics ‘Gender pay gap in the UK: 2023’ report). We need more flexible jobs where people can work around their caring responsibilities. This is especially important in Orkney given the lack of childcare available. But innovation is a way which we can find - or create – higher paid, quality jobs for women in the region. I hope that I can inspire this growth in digital jobs.

As entrepreneurs, our strength lies in spotting the issues lurking and solving them to help others. So sharing awareness of the programmes available to help build other women’s business propositions – and their confidence – seems a good place to start.

Pathfinder Accelerator alumni Sacha is the co-founder of Practest, a digital platform designed to enable GPs to refocus on patient care delivery by unlocking thousands of hours spent on inefficient processes every year in the UK.