The people behind meal kit company My Food Bag have teamed up with doctors to digitalise healthcare and revolutionise the way we seek medical advice. Tend co-founder Cecilia Robinson and clinical director Dr. Mataroria Lyndon talk bringing forward the launch of their platform due to the Covid-19 pandemic and how it will enable the sector to tap into the gig economy.
What does your business do?
Robinson: Tend is a virtual primary healthcare provider and we're working through accelerating our launch, which will likely be by mid-2020. We deliver healthcare that is suited for individuals through secure video consultations and we'll also provide messaging for doctors and nurses through our app. The way that the business will work is that doctors and the clinicians will work for Tend, they'll become part of our Tend universe. They could be working at a clinic but still be a Tend doctor at the same time, that's the way we've seen similar platforms work overseas.
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Lyndon: We're not a technology company, we're a healthcare provider using technology, and that means that we will have our own doctors and nurses who will be providing clinical care to patients. It's about providing greater choice, access and convenience.
Robinson: What we love about the idea behind this is that often we expect our doctors to be really good generalists, but sometimes we want to speak to people that have specific knowledge about the issues we have. Where Tend will become relevant and helpful is around the opportunity to speak to the type of doctor for the concern you have.
What was the motivation for starting it?
For me, it's a really personal journey. Me and [husband] James, luckily now have two beautiful children, but we had a really difficult journey having children. We had a stillbirth and we lost our second daughter at 17 weeks when I was pregnant with her so we had a really difficult journey holding pregnancies and making sure that we could go through to a safe birth, so after that happened I scoured the internet trying to find a solution that was appropriate and a specific doctor to be able to help us.
I ended up on a Skype call with some specialists from Australia and they helped resolve the issue and 11 months later Layla was born. That was my first ever virtual consultation, and after that consultation with the medical practice James and I just looked at each other and thought 'This is what healthcare should be like', you should be able to talk to a specialist and access that easily, and that's where the journey started.
Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, how long had you been working on Tend?
We've been working on it over a year and, conceptionally, we've had it in our brains for about five years. When we started researching this we brought in Theresa Gattung and Dr. Lee Mathias really early into the fold. Lee said to us 'I've got this amazing clinician, his name is Dr. Mataroria Lyndon, he's Harvard educated, got an amazing background and is really interested in digital healthcare, you should meet with him', and that's how we got Dr. Mataroria on board, and we also managed to get Josh Robb out of Pushpay.
How big is the team?
There's about 20 of us currently, and we're literally getting requests everyday from people who want to join us. The team will be growing significantly over the coming months, particularly as we head towards launch.
We're really excited to be able to bring on people that might not be able to work within the current Covid-19 challenge within the health sector as they might themselves be immunocompromised or have a loved one that is immunocompromised - we're getting those doctors and nurses reaching out asking how they can help.
Why did you decide to bring forward the launch of Tend?
We were initially looking to launch towards the end of the year and that was largely to do with some of the limitations that we saw, but, to be honest, seeing Covid-19 evolve, we can see that the need is greater now than ever.
Lyndon: We aren't launching the consultations right now, we are going from the ground up to design this. It's not just about having a FaceTime or Skype call with a health professional, we're trying to design our platform around the clinical workflow and the patient as well. It's about being able to schedule in a convenient time, pick your clinicians, being able to describe your symptoms and us having access to your health information and be able to make hospital referrals and e-prescriptions.
We're developing a whole service that can help in the response to Covid-19, and for the long term. We're working through with DHOs and DHBs to have the access to health records and referral pathways. Security and privacy are at the heart of our business.
How have District Health Boards responded to the idea?
We've had a really positive response, not only in terms of clinical colleagues, but also, a huge amount of interest from the wider health sector. I think that people knew that this approach to a digital healthcare service was coming, people have seen it overseas, but it hasn't been widely spread in New Zealand yet and Tend is going to be that solution.
How could Tend help in the response to Covid-19?
It could increase access for both patients and in terms of the current general practice workforce and health system. In terms of the wider healthcare system response, there's so much pressure underway on the frontline clinicians so we're here to be another source of help for patients. We're here to work alongside and support the current efforts.
Is Tend essentially the Uber for healthcare?
Robinson: For us it is about creating a workforce that has flexibility and choice and enable people ot work in a way that suits them, and enable them to deliver care in a way that suits the patient. We aspire to be a world class software provider in New Zealand to create a platform where doctors are able to have a life that is more balanced; they could work two days in an ER department and two days at Tend.
What advice would you give to others who want to start their own business?
An idea is 1 per cent, action is 99 per cent. You might have a great idea, but the job is to execute that idea. Focus on action and make that idea a reality. Business is all about people - they are at the heart of everything we do, and that doesn't change when you move between industries.