Thursday, February 25News For London

Can technology improve national health?

Last autumn, the National Health Service told UK doctors that they must harness technology. So far, the government has achieved the following: GP practices are offering online booking and other digital health resources. These digital start-ups could improve further.

Herr Der Lage interface. By Darya Luganskaya
The director Herr Der Lage points at potential health risks an old lady may have. By Darya Luganskaya

At TechCrunch Disrupt in East London, a number of businesses showed new developments that could soon assist solving health issues in the UK.

The UK has already created a database of healthcare records in April 2015. Anyone registered with NHS may track his or her medical records online. Any patient may see information about ongoing treatments and treatment received, information about allergies, any reactions to medications in the past and much more.

But each doctor would have to dig into the records to extract the information about a particular patient. Herr der Lage, a Berlin-based heath care startup, went further and integrated technology that analyses data and presents in a human-friendly way the potential risks a patient may have.

Its CEO Thomas Krone explains that they are focused on showing specialised doctors which other diseases and health risks a patient may have. He described a case of a 54-year-old woman who suffered from cancer, but she had a risk of stroke as well. The doctor oversaw it, and the women died during the surgery.

“Each doctor focuses on his specialty, and they may not see these factors leading to a stroke”, Krone says. Their platform would inform the doctor about potential risk with a red sign.

Herr der Lage collects the data from patients’ account and through medical questionnaire. He assures thy keep the data safe and invest heavily into security. The data is seen by the doctors only, but in addition to business-to-business product, they are planning to launch mobile application for consumers that want to track their data and keep being informed about their health risks. For the moment, this application is in beta, but when it goes life, it will be available worldwide, including the UK.

Ori Fruhauf, business manager at Upright. By Darya Luganskaya
Former pilot turned into health tech businessman, Ori Fruhauf helps people suffering from back pain. Photo: Darya Luganskaya

Every year, many days of work are lost in the UK. According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), usually people do not show up to work because of back, neck and muscle problems. In 2013, for example, these problems led to almost 31 million days of work being lost, the ONS’s Labour Force Survey says.

A startup from Israel – Upright – is trying to solve one of these three major problems: back pain. Ori Fruhauf, the business manager at Upright, holds a white piece of plastic that fits within his palm. This small device is designed to replace belts and corsets commonly used nowadays. “We wanted to create something smaller and discrete”, the business manager adds. This idea came from CEO Oded Cohen who wanted to help his mother.

The user has to put this plaster on this back. There is also a personalized training program in their mobile application as well. It can adjust to the particular weight, age and health metrics of the customer. As an output, it would suggest how many hours per day the customer should use it. “From five minutes a day it is going to an hour, and usually the treatment lasts for 20 days”, Fruhauf says. After this course you could sit and stand straight not depending on the device anymore, because the muscles are getting stronger.

Upright product. By Darya Luganskaya
Upright is way smaller that a corset or a belt. By Darya Luganskaya

Upright costs $129.95, and it could be ordered to the UK – via Amazon or company’s website. They have sold over 3,000 units by now to the customers from 60 countries, mostly from the US and Central Europe.

The company raised $150,000 within two weeks at crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo about one and a half year ago, and later secured venture funding. “It took us three years and more than $1 million to produce and develop the prototype”, Frauhauf says.

In addition to the ordinary consumers, Upright may ship its products to the companies in the future. According to Fruhauf, they are interested in preventing their employees from skipping days because of back pain, “the number one reason for disability and cut in working hours”.

The UK tech scene has mentored a number of health tech startups. One of the fast growing companies from London, Zesty, allows patients to find local healthcare providers and compare medical services using crowdsourced reviews. On top of that, Zesty lets book confirmed appointments. Launched in 2013, Zesty attracted 1,000 healthcare professionals by December 2015. Patients can also expect the launch of mobile apps for iOS and Android.

Babylon, founded in 2013 by Ali Parsa, offers a number of health-related services, including access to virtual clinicians, prescription retrieval, texting to doctors, and symptom monitoring. This mobile app is available only in the UK, and it is free. Through Babylon patients may access a doctor through mobile technology, much like you would order an Uber. For the moment, Babylon has doctors from the UK and Republic of Ireland on its list.

Babylon has an ambition to expand to other countries. Photo credit: Babylon

Technology assist not only to physical health, but also to mental conditions. Mental problems affect economy: a survey on psychiatric morbidity in the UK showed that people took on average 42 days off work because of this.

Big Health, a start-up from London, has been trying to resolve this issue from 2010. The company creates  personalised behavioural psychotherapy treatment programs for various conditions.

For instance, they have a mobile application Sleepio that helps to improve sleep.  As they promise on their website, “on average Sleepio helped users fall asleep 54% faster, reduce night time awakenings by 62% and boost daytime energy and concentration by 58%”.

Where to find updates on the latest health tech developments? In addition to tech media, such as TechCrunch, The Verge, Wired, The Next Web, the Department of Health launched a blog  focused on digital health in the UK. Every summer London welcomes Digital Health and Care Congress, which lasts for two days and cover different aspects of health.