A team of junior doctors has bagged nearly $4 million in funding to introduce a secure communications app to UK hospitals.

Following successful trials, Forward Health has received investment from Stride VC and Albion Capital.

The instant messaging platform is designed to enable clinicians to quickly and conveniently exchange messages and clinical information, including patient profiles and images.

Intended as a healthcare-compliant answer to the likes of WhatsApp, it hopes to offer a modern replacement to outdated communication technology like pagers, which are still widely used in hospitals.

The investment will be used to develop the functionality of the app and get it into the hands of more users.

Speaking to Digital Health News, Forward Health co-founder Dr Barney Gilbert said: “We’re designing and rolling out Forward from the grassroots, based on frequent testing and gathering feedback from our extraordinary community of health professionals.

“With this funding, we’ll be focusing on growing our community of users and working with them closely to ensure our future features are closely aligned with their needs.

Forward Health was established in 2016 by Dr Gilbert, alongside fellow doctors Lydia Yarlott and Philip Mundy.

The trio set out to tackle problems caused by the NHS’s “inefficient network of pagers and landlines,” and the resulting reliance on “insecure” consumer messaging applications.

It was reported in July that around two-thirds of NHS trusts do not have a policy regarding the use of messaging apps.

Dr Yarlott added: “Forward was created because we needed it to do our jobs as doctors, but we’re now discovering that it’s so much more than a messaging tool – it’s already changing the way hospitals work.

“As a paediatrician working in the NHS, I am impatient for change for my patients and their families; healthcare in the UK is world class, but we could do so much more with the right innovations spearheaded from the grassroots upwards.

“Forward is already proving to be transformative and I am excited to see how, working in tandem with our incredible community of clinicians, our technology will evolve in the months and years ahead.”

Looking beyond instant messaging

Initially focusing on instant messaging, Forward Health has been piloted amongst a community of 5,000 clinicians across five partner hospitals over the past year.

The past 12 months has also seen Forward join the DigitalHealth.London and GovStart accelerator programmes.

The next stage of expansion will include building in new functionality, Dr Gilbert said.

“We’ve started with secure, efficient messaging, but that’s just the beginning of where we plan to take the platform.

“Our long-term ambition is to solve each pain point on the clinical communication pathway, from the clinician right through to the patient.”

Dr Mundey added: “We feel privileged to have this opportunity to further scale our offering and are delighted to welcome such a fantastic group of investors to the team. Together we’re building something vital for the future of health.

“The next phase of evolution is about deepening our impact in the NHS and further empowering our community, so we can continue to create technology that allows them to help more people, more effectively.”