The Guardian: I gave up medicine to make a real difference as an entrepreneur

Patients Know Best has been featured in an article in today’s Guardian exploring how entrepreneurs are making a real difference in the NHS.

Here is part of the story of founding PKB, a book our CEO wrote on giving patients access to their medical records:

“That got me obsessed with the problem,” he says. “I spent a year trying to convince IT directors [to develop something]. But they weren’t doing it at the scale and the pace that I wanted. So I did it myself.”

The article is worth the read for the stories of the founding of MediKidz, which teaches children about their illnesses, and Ask the Midwife, which helps expectant mothers seek advice.

Read the full article here.

A hand reaching for conceptual idea lightbulbs

‘I spent a year trying to convince IT directors to develop something. But they weren’t doing it at the scale and pace that I wanted. So I did it myself.’ Photograph: Ezra Bailey/Getty Images

The paediatricians who started a children’s medical education organisation

Paediatricians Dr Kate Hersov and Dr Kim Chilman-Blair started Medikidz, a children’s medical education organisation, after becoming frustrated at the lack of resources to help explain health conditions to children.

“As a doctor, I could see this lack of knowledge was leading to fear, isolation, added anxiety and sometimes anger in children that already had the weight of the world on their shoulders,” Hersov says. “We did a lot of research and [decided to use] comic books and superheroes. It’s an amazing medium that spans age range and culture [and is] fantastic for low literacy.”

The first issue, which covered asthma, was published seven years ago. Today, the business has offices in London, New York and Sydney and has distributed more than 4.5m comics in 30 languages to hospitals and clinics across 50 countries. They’ve covered hundreds of conditions that affect children and their loved ones. The most popular so far have been those that cover ADHD, autism and breast cancer.

Each title is written by a doctor on the Medikidz team and sponsored by a private healthcare company, such as Johnson & Johnson, Siemens or Pfizer, which enables the company to distribute the comics for free. Patient groups, leading physicians, nurses and patient families are all consulted on the content before it goes to print, an exercise that usually takes four months.

“It’s very much a collaborative process,” Hersov says. “We believe that to create the best content, you need the perspective of a lot of different voices.”

Although Hersov no longer works as a doctor, she still believes she’s making a real difference to healthcare as an entrepreneur. “The response has been fantastic. Really the best part of Medikidz for me is the feedback from the children and young people who are touched by what we do.”

The midwife who set up an app to help expectant mothers with health advice

Hannah Harvey, founder of the UK’s first health advice app run by midwives, has always been interested in using digital tools to make healthcare more accessible. She still works night shifts as an NHS midwife, but launched Ask the Midwife in July 2016.

“There was a US study that suggested 84% of pregnant women use the internet for health advice,” she says. “So I [wanted to] create something where they could ask questions, instead of using Google or parenting forums.”

The app already has 2,500 users, who can connect with 40 midwives across the UK for a small charge (starting at £1.99). Harvey has plans to expand the business’s offering to video and face-to-face consultations, and hopes to work in partnership with the NHS in the future. “We are there to offer an advice service for non-urgent concerns [so] midwives working in clinical practice [can] focus on continuity of face-to-face care,” she says.

It’s a model the midwives are behind. When Harvey advertised for consultants online, she received more than 500 applications in three days. The midwives all have at least three years’ experience and get paid commission per question they answer. Many manage the work around their NHS shifts.

“I wanted a service for women and their families but it’s been beneficial for the midwives as well,” Harvey says. “Sometimes they need extra work [particularly after they’ve had children], and that’s hard to find outside of clinical practice. We’re really filling a gap there, which is fantastic.”

The biggest challenge, she adds, has been making sure the service is compliant with midwifery regulations and data protection legislation. After months of discussion with lawyers, the Nursing and Midwifery Council and the Care Quality Commission, the advice service is regulated by the Federation of Antenatal Educators.

“‘I believe there is a big market for digital healthcare services,” Harvey adds. “We don’t want to replace triage and community services but rather run alongside them to alleviate the pressure on our NHS.”

The GP who set up a business available across six countries in 19 languages

Dr Mohammad al-Ubaydli saw the difference technology could make to medicine during his ward rotation while at university. After spending a year as a GP, al-Ubaydli went into research and wrote a number of books on IT and healthcare, the last of which proposed giving patients access to their medical records.

“That got me obsessed with the problem,” he says. “I spent a year trying to convince IT directors [to develop something]. But they weren’t doing it at the scale and the pace that I wanted. So I did it myself.”

Patients Know Best, is a platform that contains a patient’s medical records from various healthcare professionals including GPs, hospital staff, social workers and mental health providers. Patients can track symptoms, connect wearable activity devices and message their consultants securely. The business launched in 2008, and is now available across six countries, in 19 languages. Approximately half a million patients use the service.

The success of the business, which secured £5.7m of investment (paywall) in 2015, lay in convincing institutions of the benefits and working collaboratively with them to overcome their initial reservations. The platform has been shown to save time on both sides of the consulting desk – doctors have found that “just in case” appointments are reduced because patients can ask questions online. It empowers the patients – they invite doctors, nurses, carers and relatives to view their records, rather than the other way around. And it enables remote monitoring – an epilepsy team in Peterborough, for example, could view uploaded videos of seizures at home to produce better diagnoses.

Some may argue the business world is incompatible with medicine, but al-Ubaydli believes that everyone working in the healthcare sector has an obligation to make it better.

“A lot of people go through [medical training] thinking there’s only one way to do things and there’s only one way to make a contribution … [But] if you see a problem, you’ve got to fix it. Healthcare will not be fixed without people doing that every day, with every problem that they see.”

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