Kiwi Power couple turn heartbreak into healthcare app that could help fight coronavirus
A long pregnancy struggle and the heartbreaking loss of two babies had left Cecilia and James Robinson devastated.
They desperately wanted another child, but the doctors were unable to give them the answers they were looking for.
“I spent all my time, weeks and months dedicated to scouring the internet to find someone who could help us,” says Cecilia.
A friend suggested she seek out a specialist who had experience with the particular medical conditions she had, but acknowledged that she might have to look abroad to find the right person.
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“In the end we had a digital consultation with two specialists in Australia and when James and I came out of that conversation we just looked at each other and said ‘it was so easy’.
“Having this ability to just talk to someone who had seen what we had been through before and was able to give us some context around that. I just thought, ‘wow, this is the future of care health’.”
The digital consultations ended up being not only convenient, but life-changing for the Robinsons.
Four years ago, Cecilia gave birth to their beautiful daughter Leila, a younger sister of Tom.
It also inspired them to research if they could bring the concept of digital diagnostics to other New Zealanders.
The power couple are the founders and former CEOs of meal kit delivery company My Food Bag, which disrupted New Zealand’s traditional food supermarket duopoly. Cecilia was also the overall winner of the 2017 Women of Influence Awards.
As seasoned entrepreneurs, finding workable solutions to everyday problems is never far from their minds.
“During that time we were doing the video consultations, we were so busy with My Food Bag, but we always had this idea of digital health in mind. It helped us so much and we knew if we could help other people , we should do it,” Cecilia said.
Years later, when their daughter fell off a trampoline and they ended up rushing to a doctor after hours to get her evaluated, it was the last push they needed.
Technology meets healthcare
The result is Tend, a digital primary healthcare service that the Robinsons believe will transform the healthcare system as we know it.
This is a privately funded mobile app that will make visiting a doctor as easy as connecting to a video call. The app aims to eliminate unnecessary visits to doctors, reduce time spent in waiting rooms and exposure to other sick people, and make it easy for New Zealanders to see their doctor without having to miss work or travel.
Thanks to Tend, patients will have access to healthcare professionals from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. every day of the week from their smartphone. Patients can choose a specific healthcare provider they would like to see or simply select the next available appointment.
Consultations with healthcare professionals are done via a secure video link and e-prescriptions can easily be issued via the mobile app. The app also stores all your health and wellness data for easy access and monitoring.
When face-to-face exams or procedures are needed, patients will be referred to a conveniently located Tend Clinic.
The formidable team behind the service includes the Robinsons, Harvard grad Dr. Mataroria Lyndon, and Josh Robb, former SVP of Product and Engineering at Pushpay.
Telemedicine is not a new concept and has been used globally to improve access to healthcare in recent years. In 2019, one in four people surveyed in the United States had used live video telemedicine in the past year. But Kiwis seem more reluctant to move their healthcare to a digital realm.
“Telemedicine is much more widely available overseas than it is in New Zealand. I think a lot of people don’t even know it’s possible to access medicine and healthcare digitally, so very few providers have done any of this work,” Lyndon says. .
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But how can a doctor diagnose a disease without being able to physically examine the patient? “There are several ways to be able to assess patients, including by video or phone,” says Lyndon.
With the current Coronavirus Alert Level 4 restrictions, GPs have had no choice but to consult patients remotely proving that this is indeed possible.
“Most of the clinical reasoning goes through the patient’s story. It’s not from the exam or the tests, it’s from the story you get from the patient,” says Lyndon.
“Just by looking at a patient, you can already tell if they are fine or not. Are they short of breath, are they sweating, do they look comatose or semi-comatose, etc.
“Of course, they will also describe their symptoms as any patient would in a face-to-face consultation.”
Lyndon believes that digital consultations pose no more risk of misdiagnosis than traditional clinical practice.
“We need to put relevant safeguards in place. If we cannot manage a patient virtually, we absolutely must ensure that you are referred to one of our clinics or to an emergency department if necessary,” he says.
One of the key elements in the development of Tend was the protection of confidential medical data and the guarantee of complete patient confidentiality. Robinson says that’s one of the reasons the team has been working on the app for over a year.
“We have security and data protection experts working for us and patients can be assured that we take security and privacy seriously.
“It’s a world-class platform and the team we have in place to take care of this aspect is among the best in the business,” she says.
Responding to a Pandemic
The team behind Tend had planned to launch the service by the end of 2020, but the sudden onset of the Covid-19 pandemic – and the immediate shift to teleconsultations – led to the app being ramped up. It should be launched by the middle of this year.
“The coronavirus pandemic has left New Zealand responding to a rapidly changing healthcare system and consumer demand will only increase over the next 6-12 months, putting a strain on resources,” he said. Lyndon said.
“Tend’s technology gives easy access to patients who may be showing symptoms of Covid-19, protects the public and healthcare workers, and relieves some of the pressure on primary healthcare.”
Lyndon is quick to point out that Tend was not developed in response to the coronavirus, although its timing could hardly be more impeccable.
“We’ve spent over a year doing our due diligence, making sure everything is in place in terms of technology, security, privacy, workflow, clinical staff standards, etc.
“We’re not just being opportunistic in bringing this to market. We’ve designed our own video conferencing platform from the ground up and aim to be a true standard for digital health in New Zealand.”
Tend will focus its service on Auckland when it launches, but is working with primary health organizations and district health boards to make the service available nationwide as soon as possible.
It is required to operate in the general medicine market under the primary healthcare organization services agreement.
“We know New Zealanders want easier and more affordable access to their GP, and we know we can do better than waiting for people to miss work, travel across town and get away from it all. sit in a waiting room for a routine appointment,” Robinson says.
“That’s why we developed Tend – we think it’s a game-changer.”