We spoke with Dr Nikhil Pooviah ahead of his presentations at the R&D Innovation Summit, March 21 & 22 in Chicago, about his CancerAid app and the R&D process more generally.
Dr. Nikhil Pooviah is the Founder & CEO of an early-stage health-tech startup: CancerAid. He has a background as a Radiation Oncologist from Sydney, Australia. The Company has developed the number 1 cancer app in the US, UK and Australia. 3 years ago, he made the bold decision to quit his position in clinical medicine to work in the new field of digital medicine and is proud to be helping even more cancer patients than ever before.
What inspired you to create CancerAid?
CancerAid for me started 3 years ago. It started as a hobby when I felt there were a lack of useful cancer apps for patients I was looking after (as a Radiation Oncologist). I played around with a few chemotherapy calendar apps, and thought to myself "I can create something cooler than this." Like most entrepreneurs, I worked on it casually for a year without telling anyone for fear of criticism. My co-founder, Raghav, questioned me one day in my kitchen why I wasn't studying for my exams and then I showed him what I had been working on. He loved it from the start and we joined forces and have created something truly incredible. We both have left clinical medicine to work in this new field of digital medicine and have found a skillset that I think both us didn't know we had. We're helping even more patients than ever before, which was one of the reasons we both became doctors in the first place.
How have you managed to tackle inefficiencies in the cancer health system?
Having a medical background has helped us identify issues we saw cancer patients, caregivers and clinicians experience. Being doctors also helps us engage with key decision makers in the health systems, who are our customers for CancerAid. We have created the first cancer app in the world to integrate with an electronic medical record. This has meant that we can reduce ER visits and 30-day readmissions, improve patient satisfaction and quality of life; but most importantly cancer patients can now potentially live longer through our innovation! Being a startup, means we can move quickly and are more agile than large corporates trying to provide innovation to the health system.
Do you think apps like yours could be applied across the health system more generally?
Many of the features of CancerAid can be modified for other chronic diseases. Creating medical apps is difficult, evident through the 96,000 currently available on the App Store (95% of which are unsuccessful). It's important to focus on key issues that patients experience through their disease. By creating features too broadly, it's likely that patients won't adopt the technology as it may not apply completely to them. Most of the top performing medical apps are designed for a particular medical condition patients suffer from, and I don't think this will likely change.
What makes your R&D process unique? What is the importance of feedback loops in the R&D process?
Our startup is unique in that the founders are medical doctors. We believe we create our R&D with the cancer patient at the center of the design process. Prior to developing the original version of CancerAid, we had gathered research on patients, caregivers and clinicians. We had more user insight going into the development process, which allowed us to create a 'sticky' product. Our feedback loops help cancer patients connect with their clinicians. Randomized evidence has shown that patients can have improved outcomes through these feedback loops so it's a big focus for our Company in 2018. We're also daring, clever and have a "no days off" mentality that have allowed us to grow our startup at a fast rate.
How important is it to adopt a holistic approach to R&D? How do you align your R&D processes with the rest of the businesses?
For CancerAid to progress, R&D is at our core. We are fortunate to reside in a country where we are incentivised to invest in R&D. We have a great team of developers, marketing specialists and physicians that allow us to conduct novel R&D each week. We hold weekly sprints, workshops and sessions to encourage innovation internally and this helps align our R&D processes with the rest of the businesses.
What do healthcare companies need to be aware of when developing R&D?
I like having the mindset that "whatever you think you're creating, there's probably 10 other Companies around the world that are working on the same thing" so it's important to continue to be agile and not relax too quickly when things are going well.
Hear more from Dr Nikhil Pooviah at our R&D Innovation Summit, March 21 & 22 in Chicago.