Covid-19 has significantly affected how we work, live and interact with each other. Using the digital world for all our daily needs has become the new normal. During the pandemic, when most businesses have suffered immensely, some industries have also seen growth. One such emerging field is virtual healthcare. Dag Larsson, CEO and Co-founder of Doccla, a Swedish digital healthcare start-up, gives us insights into how healthcare is advancing with virtual wards and remote patient monitoring, and how this new technology was tested and scaled in the UK, despite the pandemic.
Doccla offers remote medical care and monitoring services to patients with chronic conditions without being in a hospital. The virtual ward works by using a safe web browser while the clinical staff can remotely monitor the vital signs of the patient constantly or at regular intervals. Using wearable technology, the patient’s device transmits alerts of routine readings of pulse and oxygen levels, which are then reviewed and will prompt the hospital staff to take action if needed. Describing this latest technology, Dag says that in a normal hospital ward, vital signs are checked two to four times a day, while a nurse monitors an ICU patient constantly, whereas with Doccla’s technology, the vital signs of the patient are continuously streamed.
Doccla can also facilitate early discharge for several different patient groups from an acute hospital. Docclas’ virtual ward also allows for remote patient monitoring to take place as a preventive measure against extensive hospital admissions. “We provide all the required technology; the software, hardware, and mobile phones with pre-configured SIM cards for the patients. We also provide a comprehensive service layer which helps the technology to integrate easily from a workflow perspective to our clients.” By using IoT and advanced sensor technology, Doccla frees up hospital capacity by offering the patient video hospital and primary care.
Doccla came about as a new way of patient care after the Co-founder, Martin Ratz, suffered a heart attack a few years ago. Martin was struck by the fact that when he left the hospital after his surgery, there was no monitoring at all. The patient leaves the hospital from being very well taken care of to no care at all. “Two years ago, we wrote a proposal for a research project and wanted a proof-of-concept study.” Since Martin was already running several different companies, selling services and products to public caregivers around Europe, he started engaging senior NHS contacts with their new technology. “The response was very positive. We started the company very early with a contract and a possibility to co-develop the proposal with the NHS.” Besides Doccla, Philips Healthcare, Babylon and another local UK company have also won proof of concept.
Entering the UK Market
A year ago, Martin and Dag launched their remote patient monitoring services as their research project was approved during the start of the pandemic. “By that time, we had proven ourselves as an effective and innovative supplier and launched a remote patient monitoring solution together with the NHS in a matter of weeks.” The technology has successfully been scaled to five other trusts during the last year. Dag also mentions the ethics approval as another big milestone for Doccla.
"You need to get expertise or people that really know the ins and outs of UK procurement, especially if you are working towards the public sector."
A key reason for Doccla’s success in the UK market is because its remote patient monitoring services are advanced, according to European standards. The company also had a history of working with private providers and a good relationship with the NHS. English speaking skills was another factor which also made it easy to establish the business in the UK.
The company’s main UK office is in London. Dag says that having a physical presence in the UK is important. “You also need to get expertise or people that really know the ins and outs of UK procurement, especially if you are working towards the public sector. You will need someone who culturally understands the client very well.”
As Doccla provides software, Brexit has not made much of a difference to the company. “The regulatory framework has diverged slightly but is still quite similar. They have made it easy for companies, especially for those that already had the UKCA mark, to work in the UK market.”
UK business environment
Dag finds the Scandinavian and the UK cultures to be very similar. “There’s obviously a politeness here which is not so prevalent in the Scandinavian countries.”
Regarding the nature of competition in the markets, Dag adds: “The competition and opportunities in the UK are bigger. If we look at our markets, specifically, the players that we compete with in the UK are multinational companies, whereas in Scandinavia the competition is mostly with smaller companies.”
Doccla has 10 full time employees and aims to have a team of 15 to 20 employees within a year. “Hiring in London is relatively expensive, but a good thing about the pandemic is that companies are now more positive towards our hybrid model. I imagine that we will have a hub in London, or one in Edinburgh. A lot of people will work remotely, from other parts of the UK and Europe, as long as they are in the same time zone.”
Sharing some effective business tips, Dag says: “I work towards selling a service to the public sector and would strongly advise to engage with as many potential clients as possible, as early as possible, because the process will take time. All this can be done before establishing the expensive operations. We started our conversations from Sweden, and then as the business materialised, we established everything else. However, we did have local experts on procurement already contracted.”
Future of digital healthcare
With the UK market still in focus, Doccla also plans to launch in continental Europe. Dag predicts great future prospects in creating remote patient monitoring services for chronic care management, to free up hospital capacity for more acute patients and to help substantiate life science companies, either in clinical trials or their efforts to treat patients medically. “This is one of the fields that is currently exploding. So much positive change has come out from the pandemic and the response has led to fundamental behavioural change, especially in the UK. Now the receptiveness towards adopting technology at the NHS is a once in a generation kind of opportunity. This is an amazing time to be in the healthtech space.”
Year of establishment
Sweden: 2016 / UK: 2020
Number of employees
10 in total, aiming to grow to
15-20 within a year