In the UK, Innovation with a Doctor's Touch

Fast Company, the Financial Times and The Economist have all reported in recent months on the growing trend of doctors getting involved with healthcare startups. In the UK this has been an inexorable and exciting trend that is undeniably changing healthcare dynamics.

One of the benefits of physician-founded startups is that they have a unique ability to address pain points that hitherto fellow physicians and patients have found to be intractable. The irony is that these pain points cannot typically be solved by conventional clinical treatments that doctors are trained to master, but instead require doctors to lay down the text books and think creatively.

To exemplify this trend and and creative thinking we have profiled three physician-founded startups in the UK that we are excited about. All of these startups disrupt traditional doctor-patient

by Dr. Vishaal Virani


Patients Know Best (PKB)

Founded in 2008 by NHS physician, programmer and patient with a rare genetic disease Mohammad Al-Ubaydli (pictured), Patients Know Best is the world’s first fully patient-controlled online medical records system. It is designed to empower patients to manage their care, whilst enabling clinicians to share information and engage with patients in new and powerful ways. As one patient puts it “With Patients Know Best, it’s very reassuring that I can reach my entire medical team [and medical history] anywhere in the world – this makes me feel far more independent.”

In the early years Patients Know Best had difficulties getting healthcare purchasers in the UK to believe in the product. Indeed, breaking into the NHS is an insurmountable challenge for many UK-based startups. However, Patients Know Best has now signed up over 60 institutions in the UK and 6 other countries (including NHS hospitals and pharmaceutical companies). With a recently raised $5.1m round of funding, led by Balderton Capital, Patients Know Best is headed in the right direction with contracts in place for millions of patients.

When asked if doctors should consider the entrepreneurial life founder Mohammad emphatically stated “Yes. Too few pursue it. You have the opportunity to make an impact more quickly and you get to do extraordinarily interesting things."

Outcomes Based Healthcare (OBH)

Founded in 2013 by an NHS physician Rupert Dunbar-Rees(left) along with co-founders Nasrin Hafezparast (also an NHS physician), and a third non-medical co-founder Juliana Bersani.

Outcomes Based Healthcare (OBH) offer tools and technology to help healthcare purchasers and providers make a reality of outcomes-based contracts. Rupert started OBH, as whilst he was a GP he was “frustrated that we were terrible at understanding whether we are making a difference to people’s lives in a systematic way”. Patients know which treatment outcomes matter to them, and OBH’s cloud based product provides an easy, fast and accurate way to use data to measure those outcomes.

The majority of OBH’s customers are NHS Clinical Commissioning Groups and hospitals. Future plans involve commercialising current research projects, such as a $1.5m project part-funded by Innovate UK, to use machine learning techniques to predict if and when diabetics will suffer major complications. A second part-funded $150k project is focused on the development of a smartphone app that can predict patient reported outcomes amongst diabetics, through data collected passively from in-built smartphone sensors. “We know that people use their phones differently when they are sick or unhappy, so this kind of data can be collected continuously and passively to measure patient-reported outcomes” says Nasrin at OBH.

Rupert’s advice for doctors considering startups as a career path is that “if you are having these [entrepreneurial] feelings early, listen to them. There are lots of people who are very unhappy in medicine, and even though they are doing wonderful jobs, their skills could be very well be deployed elsewhere.”

Touch Surgery

Founded in 2012 by NHS surgeons Jean Nehme and Andre Chow (pictured), Touch Surgery allows trainees to practice surgical procedures using a mobile surgical simulator application. The team have designed Touch Surgery with the physician in mind from the early days – “we released a minimally viable product [in January 2013] that we subsequently redesigned based on our user feedback and metrics,” says co-founder Jean Nehme. The rather noble aspiration is to “make Touch Surgery accessible to the world so we can make the world a better place.” It certainly has made practicing surgery eminently accessible, with users taking to Twitter to report having practiced virtual heart surgery on the bus journey into work. Touch surgery is completely free for users, which has helped drive a global user base of over one million to date. Interestingly, patients have also been benefitting from Touch Surgery, with one surgeon using it to help a child visualise an upcoming appendectomy.

The Touch Surgery journey began in 2013 when the two co-founders joined the Blueprint Health accelerator in New York. Touch Surgery now has partnerships with residency programs at Harvard, NYU and Johns Hopkins, plus significant venture capital funding. The team is currently focused on building functionality for more surgical procedures, and developing partnerships with more residency programs.

On the case for doctors founding startups co-founder Jean says “You can’t make a solution to a problem without knowing the problem…that’s why I think doctors should be in this space.”