The Plunge into the Healthcare Startup Scene

When Christmas 2012 was all but over and I ventured back to university to commence my last semester before the dreaded final exams, it suddenly occurred to me that in the summer I’d probably need to get one of those 9-5 things I’d heard people talk about. I enthusiastically opened up my CV to have a look-see and my heart sank as the realisation washed over me that I had not completed any relevant, full-time work experience. This couldn’t do, I thought, I’ll never get on the ladder like that. And so it began; application after application, followed by the inevitable rejection letters. Needless to say, I quickly developed very thick skin. After much anguish, I finally received a job offer: an internship at Portable Medical Technology, helping out with business development side of things.

Admittedly, having just graduated with an economics degree, my knowledge of healthcare was somewhat limited. However, with the role focused on business enterprise, an intern’s shining enthusiasm and Google only a click away, the prospect seemed a whole lot less daunting.

Over the course of a week or two, whilst busy swotting up on Portable Med Tech’s first mobile application outing, ONCOassist, prepping for meetings and reigniting my love for Excel, a few things about the healthcare sector firmly stood out. First to note is that ONCOassist is the 3rd mobile app to be CE approved worldwide, which arose due to its classification of a medical device. However, there doesn’t seem to be many other companies pursuing this status for their apps, which struck me as odd; surely there is a need for certified applications, especially for healthcare professionals?

Of course there are apps out there, although don’t be surprised if you can’t find them straightaway, they are usually hidden behind an amassed number of disclaimers. A couple of self-proclaimed health care apps have been removed recently and their respective developers fined by ever more vigilant regulators, notably in the US, who have taken a much harder stance on apps, which could be considered medical devices. Rightly so too, as many are probably used and vouched for without actually having proven reliable and helpful results or efficiency improvements.

This leads me onto my second point: it almost seems as if a sizeable majority of the UK healthcare sector saw the digital/mobile revolution happening but instead just decided to turn over and press snooze. This is illustrated, for example, with electronic health records. Even now, some UK practices are somewhere in-between keeping paper-based and digital records. That said there are some great initiatives cropping up, such as Healthbox, that are really pushing innovation in the sector forward.

The other main point of interest was that the big players in healthcare seem to have decided that there is potential in entering healthcare markets in less-developed nations, probably as an attempt to capitalise on technology jumps, particularly through telemedicine. This highlights an ever-present inequality issue, which is especially prominent within the healthcare sector. I should think it is easy to proclaim knowledge of such things but a significantly harder task to actually comprehend it. For instance, a quick Internet such will factually explain that India has only managed to stop the transmission of Polio in the last couple of years but to understand the complexity of that conquest and the hardships that must have come with it, I think is a much harder concept to get your head around.

All in all, healthcare is a thriving market to be in, with a lot of buzz currently around it, despite the usual budgetary grumbles that probably crop up in businesses across all sectors (insert doom-and-gloom sentence about never-ending austerity here). Working for a healthcare startup has its perks too; a friendly and informal atmosphere, working towards something which promotes the well being of others, and generally raising awareness of important and relevant health issues. The occasional free breakfast doesn’t hurt either!

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