From NetDoctor to working with the NHS: Introducing Rune Bech, a serial healthcare entrepreneur

12 min read

03 May 2019

Features Editor, Real Business

We've all heard of 'serial entrepreneurs'. Whilst the term is defined by financial recklessness by some, it's worn as a badge of honour by others. Whatever your personal opinion on the label, I bet you haven't heard of nearly as many 'serial healthcare entrepreneurs', have you? Well, we have one for you today, his name is Rune Bech and his business, Liva Healthcare, is teaming up with the NHS to tackle chronic diseases.

When we think of people who work in the healthcare sector, we usually picture serious characters who follow policies and create reports. Moreover, why shouldn’t they be serious? Through the work they do, they are saving lives.

But who says they can’t be entrepreneurial too? Rune Bech, our interviewee for today, is not only a serial healthcare entrepreneur extraordinaire, but he’s also an experienced journalist. For Bech, eventual entrepreneurial success would be defined by a combination of these two passions.

His first successful business was NetDoctor, the iconic medical advice and lifestyle platform he co-founded with the help of childhood friend and qualified doctor, Carl Brandt. (US publisher giant, Hearst, would later acquire the business).

Following this milestone moment, the duo returned to their native Denmark to talk through another idea. They decided that there could be a more proactive way to help patients deal with chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.

The result became the digital healthcare platform, Liva Healthcare, which started life in 2014 and is now being trialled by our very own NHS to help tackle the diabetes epidemic. Let’s find out more…

What events led you to Liva Healthcare?

Having been in the digital health space for years and starting NetDoctor in 1998, we wanted to create a platform that would help healthcare providers become more efficient and stop the progression of lifestyle disease for patients. Liva Healthcare was created in response to these issues. In short, our idea was born to facilitate a growing need to help both patients and healthcare providers tackle chronic illnesses.

Has the rise of digital technology helped health organisations empower their patients to take better care of themselves?

Liva Healthcare’s digital platform in action.

The wonderful thing about digital platforms is that you can reach more patients in less time, for the same amount or less money.

Allowing instant communication and the ability to monitor patients’ progress easily, technology can be hugely invaluable for healthcare professionals.

Technology also offers something completely different from the traditional ‘classroom style’ education that has previously been adopted by healthcare providers.

We have found that practitioners can reach 10 times the number of patients through digital channels compared to traditional channels.

While it ensures great efficiency, technology also enables a meaningful and empathetic dialogue between the two parties. Through Liva in particular, this is created with regular monitoring and weekly, monthly or quarterly check-ins with a personal health coach via the app.

How does the platform work? Is it patient facing or mostly for health practitioners?

Liva acts like a personal lifestyle coach in the pocket of a patient and sets goals, stores and manages data such as blood sugar levels and weight, and helps the user develop good habits that can be sustained in the long term.

Each patient is given a dedicated, personal health coach; these coaches come from a variety of backgrounds from nutritionists to psychologists. This ensures we have the broadest depth of knowledge for our patients.

Every patient begins with an initial face-to-face consultation with their health coach during which the patient’s personal goals are discussed and agreed. Following this, coaching is ongoing via text or video consultation and the health coach can be accessed every day.

For practitioners, they are able to see all of their patients within one platform, using Liva’s traffic light system they can see quickly who needs extra support. This ensures that no patients are lost and care can be prioritised for those in need. In short, in using digital tools like Liva you can reach more people, mentor them for longer, and achieve more effective outcomes.

Tell me about the moment you gained NHS England as a client in 2017?

NHS England decided they wanted to test different solutions to the lifestyle challenge facing patients. They approached 87 digital providers and chose four providers to take part in a pilot of 5000 patients. Each provider was given 1000 patients to see what outcomes could be achieved.

The pilot started in 2017 and the NHS is due to publish a report on the findings next year. After the success of the digital pilot, NHS England decided to include digital providers in the national rollout of the Healthier You: Diabetes Prevention Programme (NDPP).

Liva Healthcare was chosen to work alongside Living Well Taking Control (LWTC) to stop the progression of Type 2 diabetes in pre-diabetics and, where possible, roll back the disease.

As the world’s largest healthcare provider, we saw the partnership as a stamp of approval from the UK – which was a milestone for us! We are so pleased to be working with the NHS on this ambitious programme.

You deal with healthcare providers from across Europe, what’s your opinion on public healthcare providers such as the NHS?

We work with four different groups of customers, public healthcare being one. Diabetes is a major challenge for healthcare providers, including the NHS. Type 2 diabetes is one of the biggest healthcare challenges of our time.

Diabetes and its complications cost the NHS over £10 billion every year to treat, with one in six patients in hospital now having diabetes.

It’s becoming more widely acknowledged that early diagnosis is key in reducing both the physical and economic burden of the disease. This is why the NHS made the decision to focus on prevention with the aim of catching patients in the pre-diabetic stage.

The NDPP is the largest programme of its kind and the NHS should be recognised as being extremely forward thinking with its approach. Although public healthcare providers are our largest customer, we also work with research institutions, insurance, and pharma companies.

When dealing with patients who are facing serious health problems such as heart disease and diabetes, is advocating for lifestyle changes impactful enough?

Simply advocating for lifestyle changes isn’t enough. It’s actually making the lifestyle changes which is important.

Studies have shown that 50% of patients that use the Liva platform to support their lifestyle changes no longer suffer from Type 2 diabetes.

This shows that if patients work on their diet and lifestyle and are conscious of how to achieve the results they need, the disease can be reversed. Type 2 diabetes isn’t a chronic disease for everyone, some people cannot be changed, either because they lack the motivation or because there are other physical factors. But in many cases, lifestyle changes really can transform patients’ lives.

Was it always your intention to start a business that has a positive impact on wider society?

We entered the digital health space 21 years ago. Since 1998 and through starting NetDoctor we had the aim of making healthcare information trustworthy and accessible for all.

Our goal was always to make digital health information as freely and readily available in as many countries as possible. In answer to your question, yes, it was always my intention to accelerate the process of digitising medical information for the benefit of all patients.

Tell me about your recent €8 million investment. What do you think it was about your business model that made it stand out to investors?

We recently concluded a funding round with three venture capital funds from Germany. They all believe strongly that there is a growing need for technology in health and lifestyle interventions. They know that we need to reform the way we bring about lifestyle changes for patients with chronic diseases and saw the great work that Liva is doing in this space.

Investors understand that healthcare providers will increasingly look for cost savings and efficiency. But at the same time, they are looking for fantastic patient outcomes.

Most importantly current investors see a growing market and a space that needs improvement. There is so much room for progress. We’re giving them that progress.

Do you think that investors are increasingly attracted to businesses that are trying to solve social problems in society, such as health?

Yes, there is a clear trend here.

Digital healthcare, in particular, is an increasing area for investors to get into. Liva Healthcare is responding to the demand for effective disease management on a mass scale at a lower cost.

Why do you think your company attracted the attention of VC firms?

First off, the Liva platform is proven and is driving outcomes for patients. 48% of patients reverse their pre-diabetes completely after just 6 months of using our platform.

As a company, we are capable of attracting leading providers and partners to work with us in tackling a growing problem. Working with NHS England has acted as a stamp of approval. This has been an important factor for our investors.

Private insurance companies and pharma companies as well all find the Liva platform is furthering their cause, which is also helping us to attract investors.

Can you tell me about your next moves for the company following this milestone funding moment?

Sustainable expansion is key. In terms of markets, we’re already in Scandinavia and the United Kingdom. We are also in the early stages of expanding into new European markets such as Germany and Spain.

We are also looking at incorporating the Liva technology within devices. The future for Liva Healthcare could see us manufacturing tracking devices and coaching modules for patients.

In all, there is huge scope for greater geographical reach to help more and more patients across the globe fight their illnesses.