Professionals working in the UK health industry are ideally placed to identify problems experienced by patients and colleagues. Every day they see the issues that could be improved by a new way of doing things, and many are now using their medical knowledge to address these problem areas in innovative, creative ways.
Jane Braithwaite looks at some success stories, what it takes to be an entrepreneur, and what support is out there to help doctors bring their innovative ideas to market.
What makes a doctor entrepreneur?
Some medics make the transition from medical school straight to business and do not complete specialist training. Some doctors continue their training and develop their ideas while continuing to practice.
Others are consultants or GPs who use their specialist knowledge to bring quality, problem-solving tech solutions to market. The medical backgrounds can be varied, but one thing is consistent – the entrepreneurial spirit and the ability to see a problem and fix it with a great solution.
However, insider knowledge of the healthcare industry does not mean that an idea will automatically translate into a successful business. Doctors will have been medically trained, but many will have had little to no experience in relation to building a successful business based on a new idea.
To build a business and be a successful entrepreneur, several key traits are needed, including an ability to analyse problems and the self-belief to take those solutions all the way.
Furthermore, at some point, there will be a need to know how to run a business and this includes knowing how to lay its foundations, deal with administration, finance and human resources.
Knowing when to delegate and hand over tasks like this to other experts is also a skill that needs to be learnt.
This website combines patient reviews, specialist information and appointment booking to provide a one-stop shop for patients looking for a private specialist in London.
Co-founded by Stephanie Eltz and Suman Saha – along with chief executive Oliver Thomas and chief finance officer Daniel Jung – these doctors joined forces in 2015 to develop their vision of creating a service that brought doctors and patients together.
An online community focused on medical students and junior doctors, Generation Medics was formerly known as ‘Help Me, I’m A Medic’ and is the brainchild of Dr Hinnah Rafique.
Since 2013, the website has grown to be the UK’s largest online community for medics, with a community of more than 4,000 members. Generation Medics has won two UnLtd national awards, and provides medics with online support, revision aids and access to national conferences.
Dr Lewis Potter’s GeekyMedics site focuses on supporting junior doctors by making revision ‘less painful and more productive’.
Video guides, quizzes and case studies make this Newcastle University graduate and Clinical Entrepreneur Fellow’s network hugely popular, with more than four million downloads worldwide and over 130,000 subscribers on YouTube.
Co-founded by Dr Kartik Modha, a north London GP, myHealthSpecialist is an online resource for patients and GPs to find doctor-recommended private and NHS specialists.
With more than 3,000 GPs and specialists listed, the site aims to improve care and save time by connecting patients with the right specialists.
The need to help doctors develop their business skills is recognised by several organisations, with programmes and networks in place to build these skills. These are:
A joint venture between NHS England and Health Education England, launched in 2016. This programme aims to provide guidance to junior doctors with innovative ideas, helping them to develop their product or service with the goal of bringing it to market.
Doctors will be able to develop the knowledge, skills and leadership capabilities required if they are to successfully bring their ideas to market. The initial success of this unique scheme has led to it being extended; as of last year, dentists and healthcare scientists can also apply.
Successes include Dr Suman Saha, co-founder of Doctify, and Dr Lewis Potter, founder of GeekyMedics.
Doctorpreneurs is an online community aimed at connecting doctors with similar interests in entrepreneurship and health tech.
Founded in 2011, the company originally focused on organising events, providing interested parties with a way to network. The team grew in 2014, and the company now boasts an impressive events schedule, student ambassador network and start-up school.
Supported by the office of the Mayor of London and NHS England, Digital Health London provides support to those looking to bring ground-breaking ideas to the UK healthcare industry.
By providing innovators with guidance in relation to intellectual property, commercialisation and finance, Digital Health London aims to generate economic growth and improve health outcomes and experiences.
So the opportunities for networking, developing and expertise-sharing are available, and with the UK’s small business market growing with a record 5.5m private-sector enterprises in business at the start of 2016 – up 97,000 on the previous year –could it be time to start thinking creatively and find a solution to a problem?
➲Do your research – With so many new and innovative healthcare services out there, doing some background research is invaluable. Check out your competition and see how you can differentiate your idea from others.
➲Perfect your pitch – ‘If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.’ You should keep in mind that not everyone will have your frame of reference and people will sometimes just want to know – very simply – what your product is and how it will help them.
➲Set clear and achievable milestones – Avoid wasting time and overthinking your concept. Set yourself some realistic milestones that lead to clear goals.
➲Recognise your weaknesses – As a doctor, business skills may not be your forte. Take advantage of online resources and communities to help build those skills and develop your understanding of what it takes to run a successful business.
➲Call in favours – Working in healthcare means your colleagues will have experience and talent in many areas: communications, IT, and marketing. These colleagues could potentially help you develop your idea or could even be future business partners.
➲Network – Go to conferences and industry meetings. This will help build your understanding of areas of the industry unfamiliar to you and build your network of industry connections.
➲Don’t give up the day job – Your medical expertise and position provides you with in-depth healthcare knowledge. Remember that you are where you are today because of your interest in medicine; keep up to date on developments in healthcare and keep up your connections within the NHS and private healthcare.
➲Save people money – Creating a service or product that lowers cost will help to increase uptake of your product or service once it comes to market.
➲Help everyone – A product that helps one group of stakeholders but not another will not go far. Make sure that your product does not make life more difficult for a certain group of users/workers. Look at feedback from users to determine how you can go about making this happen.
➲Be willing to take a risk – Not all business ideas are successful, but this does not mean you shouldn’t try. Even if an idea does not come to fruition, you will undoubtedly learn some valuable lessons along the way.