WIRED Health is our annual exploration of the ever-changing world of healthcare, featuring leading technologists, entrepreneurs and innovators in sectors from robotics to virtual reality. For all our coverage from the event, head over to our WIRED Health hub.
The Bupa Startup Stage at WIRED Health 2016 showcased entrepreneurs and innovators at the cutting edge of medicine and health.
Many of the startups pitching to the judges – Simon Nicholls, Global Digital Health Director at Bupa, Tara Donnelly, Managing Director of the Health Innovation Network, Luc Dandurand, Head of ICT Applications at the International Telecommunication Union, and me – looked to smartphones as their primary medical tool.
From Parkinson's to cancer diagnosis, these startups aim to change healthcare with an app.
Period tracker Clue has become the world's fastest growing female health app (or so it claims), with four million monthly active users. But according to director of scientific research Vedrana Högqvist Tabor, its real purpose is much broader.
"There would be approximately five million fewer health problems and deaths per year if we were able to detect complex reproductive diseases and if we were able to transfer and share our knowledge on menstrual cycles," says Tabor.
Clue, which raised $7m in Series A funding in October 9, 2015, helps women keep track of their menstrual cycles – and by feeding this anonymised information to academic researchers helps improve diagnosis of complex diseases.
"Menstrual cycle is a vital sign of our health, just like body temperature, pulse and blood pressure," says Tabor. "I think we can learn how to diagnose complex diseases including cancer significantly earlier."
Px HealthCare's mobile apps provide people with cancer with personalised information and tools to manage their condition. They're also data collectors, giving clinicians a way to track their patients, both as individuals and as anonymous sources for large-scale studies.
The company's first app, OWise, is targeted at people with breast cancer. It gives patients a place to receive feedback and store information about their condition – such as tracking how they feel, something they can see in graph form. This information can be shared with the clinician, who can also use the app to see how the patient is progressing.
"That's the type of data doctors normally see only when the patient is sitting in front of them," says Px HealthCare founder and CEO Anne Bruinvels. "Now they can see this real time, wherever they are, at the time that suits them."
Launched in the Netherlands in 2013, OWise breast cancer has been brought to the UK in 2016. The app is free for patients – the business model for Px HealthCare lies in analysing anonymous data to see which drugs give the best outcomes for patient groups.
Revere Care's app lets people in need of care book a carer, a doctor or a nurse "at the click of a button" by connecting them via what CEO and founder Marek Sacha calls a "digital carer marketplace". Remind you of anything? "It's the Uber of social care," says Sacha.
With around 7,000 care agencies already in the UK, why do we need another one? According to Sacha, Revere Care's system means it can provide care at "50 to 70 per cent lower margins", and pay its carers substantially better rates.
"On average we pay the carers £15 an hour," says Sacha. According to startup stage judge Tara Donnelly that's "a third to double what the market rate would be."
Founded in December 2015, Revere Care has 200 carers on its books and has generated £25,000 in revenue. Previously known as Golden Era Club, the company is moving so fast it's already undergone a change of name, a rebrand performed live on stage at WIRED Health. "We don't like the idea of Golden Era any more," says Sacha. "I got a lot of feedback it's like a Chinese restaurant."
Since the 1950s, doctors have found that playing people with Parkinson's regular beats can help them overcome difficulties with movement. "It's called auditory cueing," explains Ciara Clancy, founder and CEO of Beats Medical. "It’s been proven by decades of research, and collective meta-analysis of the data, to significantly improve stride length, walking speed and overcome freezing symptoms."
The only problem with this treatment is that it needs to be tailored to the individual on a daily basis. That's why former physiotherapist Clancy created Beats Medical, an app that does just that, making metronome treatment, as it's known, available outside the hospital.
The newest version of the app – waiting for verification from clinical trials – also provides therapies for speech and dexterity. "In this way, people with Parkinson's can get a daily accessible dose of treatment," says Clancy, "that's been tailored to their needs and their symptoms for that day."
When Jose Antonio Bastos's son found it difficult to get over fever, he realised just how difficult it was to get a doctor to visit his home. So he came up with Knok (pronounced "knock"), a platform – powered by an app – that lets people book face-to-face appointments with GPs, paediatricians and psychiatrists.
"We have been called the Uber of doctors, because doctors drive to you," says Bastos. "In three simple taps on your phone, you get to see a doctor. You can choose your doctor, you see them driving towards you, and then at the end you get to rate them."
Founded in December 2015, Knok already has 93 doctors on its books in Porto and Lisbon, and Bastos says doctors can make three or four times what they usually do by using the platform, despite the transportation costs involved. But is there enough spare capacity in the system to create a ready pool of mobile healthcare, especially in the UK, which Knok intends to expand into soon?
"We do believe that in markets such as the UK you can provide locum doctors an alternative where they can in theory make more money," says Bastos. "We wouldn't want to be predators to be NHS."
TalkLife is a peer-to-peer support network for youth mental health. Its 300,000 active users around the world help each other deal with depression, self-harm and suicidal thoughts. "A place that's fun and clinically grounded," is how founder and CEO Jamie Druitt describes it.
Now the company is moving beyond peer-to-peer and into messaging. Its new tool, TalkLife Connect, lets users chat with therapists via instant message – whether that's on Slack, Facebook Messenger, or in its stand-alone messaging system.
"Within our peer to peer network, many users spoke about extensive wait times to reach professionals," says Druitt. "I knew we need to provide our users with a place they could start the conversation faster, when they needed it."
Launched in February this year, TalkLife Connect is available for $25 (£12.89) a week or $90 a month.