Why can we shop and bank from home, but need to see a doctor to check our health? An unlikely team of people from a startup, a biotech company and a heart network set out to do something about it.
Nora Zetsche is an idealist with a clear vision: “Healthcare needs to become more affordable and convenient. Just as we are banking from home, patients should be able to manage their health from home.”
When she started her career as a radiologist, she quickly detected flaws in the system. “Traditionally, what the doctor says and prescribes is the gold standard, but once the patients leave the hospital or the doctor’s office, they are often left on their own.”
In 2016 Nora co-founded Veta Health, a digital health startup. Veta Health’s platform helps doctors gather essential information from patients after they have left their office and helps patients to better manage their disease.
Far from depersonalising the relationship between doctors and patients, technology is helping improve human interaction. Says Nora: “Doctors and care teams are busy with administrative tasks, and many of these efforts can be replaced and made more efficient with technology. Once this is accomplished, we can go back to what is most important, and that is the relationship between patients and their care teams.”
Nora thinks that healthcare can learn a lot from more consumer friendly industries. “Across other markets, companies, even competitors, often work together to bring a greater good to the consumer. This is what should be happening in healthcare, but I don’t think we are there yet”, she acknowledges.
Jochen Hurlebaus, Head of Digital Health Innovation at Roche Diagnostics, is keenly aware that healthcare is a conservative industry. “Sharing ideas and information with startups and other external stakeholders is still unfamiliar territory for many of us. But there is progress. Especially in the digital space, people realise that we need to collaborate with new players if we want to stay innovative.”
To put this to the test, Jochen and his team started Startup Creasphere, the first digital health accelerator in Munich in 2018. Supported by Roche mentors and a network of external partners, the startups are spending three months working on pilot projects.
Veta Health was one of the first startups that joined Startup Creasphere. Both sides quickly realised they wanted to continue their collaboration after the programme. Jochen recounts: “Veta Health had created a patient engagement platform and needed a place to pilot it. Roche already had a partnership with the Netherlands Heart Network and they were looking for a digital platform to manage cardiac diseases. We connected them with Veta Health, and their platform is now being piloted with heart failure patients in our Care4Hearts project. Together with Veta Health we will test if their platform meets the needs of patients and doctors and how it can be further evolved. We will collect and integrate data from patients, physicians and caretakers to ultimately develop the best care plan.”
In order to test whether the platform serves patients in the real world, the team needed someone to join them on their journey and put the technology to use. Enter Ramon van de Ven, cardiologist at Saint Anna Hospital. He supports remote monitoring because he has seen the impact it has on patients: “Patients can check anytime how their blood pressure or weight is changing and respond to these changes quicker. That means they need to go to the hospital less often while staying healthier. They also have less complaints about depression – one of the key symptoms of heart failure patients. Remote monitoring clearly helps to increase their quality of life.”
Ramon champions a proactive care model where patients actively participate in their own health. “You have to start with small changes, with a small group of patients, a limited period to test a new technology – if it is successful, people will get onboard. But you need a lot of patience.”
Just like Ramon, Jochen makes it his mission to convince the skeptics. “For me the symbiosis with startups is the best way to innovation. We can learn from them how to become faster and more flexible, and how to take risks and push the boundaries. But there is still a lot of skepticism in our organisation. You cannot change people by preaching to them or sending them powerpoint slides. They need to experience first-hand how inspiring it is to collaborate with startups. What motivates me are the incredible people from the startups we are working with. It is great to see their passion, to be creative and support each other.”
New collaborations like this are a small but important step towards a more democratic, accessible and effective healthcare. Nora sums up: “We have seen what an impact consumer pressure can have. Once we as consumers realise how far we are from receiving great quality care, we will see that pressure increase and experience a huge change.”
Startup Creasphere brings startups together with external partners as well as various functions from Roche. The three-month programme allows to get to know each other well through co-creating a pilot project. Pilot projects typically address either technology assessment and co-development or testing of new business models and market access. The programme provides access to 20 global healthcare partners, universities and investors. In addition, it offers the opportunity for expansion to the USA, Europe and Asia.