It was while working on a scabies eradication program in East Timor that two dermatologists formed a bond that would lead to a new technology start-up, but the innovation epiphany that inspired the development of their PracWay platform was actually much closer to home.
A personal medical crisis showed the formidable duo – Rebecca Saunderson and Julia Rhodes – that there was a need for them to channel their altruistic ambitions into empowering patients.
“In 2017, I was diagnosed with a mass in my jaw,” PracWay co-founder Saunderson said.
“Navigating through the healthcare system is not always straightforward, and after experiencing complications from procedures, myself and Julia began to think about ways that the patient experience could be improved. That’s when we began researching some of the concerns out there.”
They found that medicine is practised in a way that can mystify patients, leading them to give ill-informed consent.
“The process is often poorly done, not standardised and patient comprehension is often lacking.”
While Saunderson – who took physicians training at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital then studied her MPhil in Medicine via a Gates Cambridge Scholarship – was able to understand and research the procedures she was having, she realised other patients found it frightening.
“On one occasion, I was asked to give consent in a room with other patients present, and noticed that while I understood the risks and benefits of the procedure as a doctor, there were no details explained to me or other patients in any detail or in a systematic fashion,” Saunderson said.
Not only do patients not always receive a full explanation of their procedures but they can be unaware of the financial costs.
“It's astonishing how common it is to hear that a patient signed a consent form while being wheeled into a procedure. For an elective procedure in 2018, this is unacceptable practice. Patients are also placed in a position where they are unaware of the out-of-pocket costs until just before the procedure, when backing out is not an option, and it's not informed consent.”
Saunderson was determined to create an easily accessible and understandable platform for explaining surgical procedures that combined full transparency of the out-of-pocket costs.
She was joined in her efforts by Rhodes – who had completed a fellowship in complex medical dermatology in international centres including the Mayo Clinic in the US.
PracWay was the outcome.
“A video outlining the procedure is sent to the patient for them to watch. Interactive questions test whether the patient has understood the procedure, and these answers are captured and recorded. They are present on the consent form, and any misunderstandings can be clarified with a discussion between the doctor and the patient,” Saunderson said.
While the use-case is clear, the process to market is a complex one. To propel the medical specialists turned tech start-up founders along the clinical trial, business development and investment process, they have been selected to join the health technology accelerator HCF Catalyst.
As part of the health fund’s fast-track program, held in partnership with Slingshot, Saunderson and Rhodes are immersed in a 12-week process of mentorship, industry relationship-building and strategic guidance alongside nine other health technology start-ups and scale-ups.
The new cohort of health technology entrepreneurs reflects a growing demand in Australia for remote and online access to healthcare, and the increasing focus on virtual reality, AI and cloud-based technologies.
Innovations chosen for the 2018 intake include:
Myhealth1st, which allows patients to find health providers and schedule appointments through its digital platform
Vantari VR, which applies virtual reality to medical imaging
SleepFit, which provides digital sleep health programs for employers, insurance companies and health providers that include education, screening, diagnosis and treatment plans
Boundlss, which connects members with their health and life insurers directly through a conversational, AI health platform.
For the co-founders of PracWay, being chosen to join the accelerator gives them an opportunity to learn from specialists in that field.
“HCF provides exceptional mentorship and support. Their experience with the healthcare system provides deep insights into the current issues faced by individuals navigating through that system. We hope to develop a long-term relationship with HCF to improve the healthcare experience of patients,” Saunderson said.