Dr Bayju Thakar is Co-Founder and former CEO of Doctor Care Anywhere, an online doctor consultation service.
Dr Thakar trained as a medical doctor at King’s College, London, and then practised in both General and Emergency medicine before a move to consulting at Mckinsey & Company. At Mckinsey he worked across public, private and emerging market health systems in medical devices, pharmaceuticals and information technology industries. Bayju is also Founder and Director at Synergix Health Limited, and holds a Philosophy degree with honours from King’s College, London.
Describe the journey from medical doctor to McKinsey & Company to Co-Founder of Doctor Care Anywhere?
That’s a really interesting question. Why did I want to leave medicine? I still ask myself that question a lot. In truth the real reason I left medicine is because I just didn’t know what I wanted to do in my life. I really enjoyed medical school and the friendships I developed. What I didn’t understand or embrace at that time was what a privilege being a medical doctor is. I didn’t have the maturity at the age I was to realise what it meant. As a result by the time I became a senior house officer I became frustrated with myself, and at the time the health service was undergoing a considerable restructuring process, which left me frustrated with the system too. So I left.
I spent some time in West Africa and lived in Ghana for a time. I eventually had to come back. I didn’t have any money. I wasn’t sure I wanted to return to medicine. I started talking to people a lot more mature than myself about the options out there for people leaving medicine. It turns out that it is a fairly well trodden path. They were ex-doctors themselves and suggested I looked into consulting, as it is a generalist field and consulting firms liked doctors because of their problem-solving abilities. I decided to have a look into it and at the time McKinsey & Co and Bain & Co were among the best in the world.
By no means did I just walk into McKinsey & Co. I had to work incredibly hard for several months, learning new skills, learning how to think in new ways, analysing various case studies. I got through the interview process and they gave me a job as an associate. My journey there was an exciting one. It was more tactical. I came into an environment in which I knew almost nothing, and coming in from the outside I hadn’t quite realised how hard these individuals work. It was a very steep learning curve. For a period of around 3 years it was 16-hour days, getting on planes and getting off planes all around the world. But it was fascinating stuff, not just in healthcare but also in a number of other industries. It gave me a remarkable insight into business, government, big industry and policy making.
I got to a point where I thought ‘that’s enough for me’. I had learnt a huge amount, had great experiences but realised it was now time to go. I didn’t have a job lined up to go to, I just jumped ship. I had enough faith in myself that I would find a way. I did a stint in private equity for a couple of years, running the portfolio for an energy company. It was very different to frontline healthcare but taught me some real hard-nosed investment and transactional aspects of the business world.
By 2012 I looked at my experiences and realised the thing I liked the most was healthcare. I think it is relatively easy to get out of bed in the morning and feel good about healthcare. I also liked the idea of getting into business. And that’s when I realised who I was – I wanted to develop a healthcare business. I wanted to create something, build something, run something and I wanted it to be in healthcare. I believed the opportunity existed and I knew I wanted to be in it for the long game.
There’s no doubt that healthcare is way behind other industries in terms of advocating technology and the digitalisation of the interaction between patient and doctor. So I started working on that idea with a guy called Farzad Entikabi an ex-King’s College medical student and practising GP. It was mainly over a few bottles of wine and harebrained ideas that Doctor Care Anywhere was born.
What is Doctor Care Anywhere ?
Doctor Care Anywhere started as a virtual GP platform, where you can consult a doctor by video or voice call. As a company we believe that all humans should have access to healthcare and feel confident that care is safe and effective. Doctor Care Anywhere is about using technology to make this human right possible. To help make that happen, I want to know that my patients have an app on their phone whereby they can get hold of their GP when they need to, so they can ask questions and get useful answers at short notice if needs be. And then if they need diagnostic testing or a specialist consult they can have that arranged remotely without undue delay. If we can make it so that patients and clinicians alike can avoid having to travel to and from clinics, wait in waiting rooms, then get a letter of referral sent to them, all of that – if it’s what they want, and it’s medically appropriate – then we can save a lot of time, money, and capacity for everyone involved.
I want these processes to be possible wherever they are in the world. In part, that means they need all their healthcare notes to be contained in a single patient file, accessible from their phones. The important thing for me there is that it means I can provide something that leaves people feeling safe and cared for. We now cover approximately 270,000 patients from over 100 countries. We serve a large number of businesses including AXA PPP, Nuffield Health, Legal and General, The Co-op and over 250 blue chip corporates.
Doctor Care Anywhere won the best patient platform at the HBI 2017 awards, the only “telehealth” company to make the final shortlist. What sets your company apart?
It’s interesting because the award was about technology. We have a brilliant team led by our CTO Mark Findlater . Those guys have developed something so brilliant that actually I don’t need to spend too much time pondering it – it just works, and it works very well indeed.
What I spend more time thinking about and what differentiates us, is our relentless focus on clinical excellence. We are a doctor-founded business. Anyone can say they hire the best doctors and have the best technology – but in “telemedicine” that just isn’t true. It’s a whole new way of doing things. You have to up-skill constantly, to develop the best doctors for this model, and then you have to keep them on board. We spend a huge amount of time training our doctors to know how to practice “telemedicine”. It is a substantially different interaction. Your history has to be different and you cannot physically examine the patient. Your observation of the patient is different and their observation of you is different, so you have to learn to approach the consultation differently. We are constantly auditing the quality of our service and the excellence of our doctors. That is what I am most proud of.
What are your thoughts on the digital healthcare landscape and how it will evolve?
I think back when we started in 2012, the US was considerably further ahead, and it still is, though a lot of that has to do with scale, the structure of the healthcare system and the incentives available.
Here in the UK, of course, the big healthcare provider is the NHS. The NHS is dealing with a huge array of struggles, as everyone knows. Consequently its adoption of new ways has been quite a challenge, but over the past 3 or 4 years there has been more and more dialogue with businesses like ours. We are definitely seeing a huge amount of interest and engagement in digital health now.
I would still describe it as being at its early stages, and pretty subscale, but the curve is steep. In the next 5 years I believe the adoption of clinical services through digital platforms will be the norm. This is not because I am some sort of eternal optimist but because it has been a long time coming: it’s akin to that famous adage where one says “it took me 20 years to become an overnight success”.
Our population is ‘ageing’, how does a patient demographic familiar with physical interactions with their doctor benefit from Doctor Care Anywhere?
I think the digital healthcare sector needs to be honest about its limitations – I believe start-ups need to be more responsible about what we can and can’t do. There is actually quite a lot we can’t do, and we need to acknowledge what those things are, but there is a great deal we can do- so let’s focus on that.
Imagine you have a complex elderly patient case. The patient regularly needs to be examined, as part of their ongoing care needs, and most GPs would need to see them in person. Digital technology can still be used to benefit this patient – that could include collecting data and identifying trends, whether this be blood glucose or blood pressure, for example. The collection of useful clinical data enables an improved evaluation of care which means doctors can make more informed decisions. This is relevant to all ages, irrespective of their complexity.
Where there are clear limitations to the need for physical assessment, services like ours can do much of the heavy lifting in cases that don’t require it. That’s at least 60-70% of primary care. So we can repurpose capacity and demand, so that those patients who most need to be seen in person, can be seen in person.
I believe start-ups need to be more responsible about what we can and can’t do in the digital healthcare space.
What advice would you give to any aspiring healthcare entrepreneurs ?
Don’t overthink it. Just do it. If you really want to develop something, you can only do it by moving forwards. You become smarter at figuring out what you need to think about and solve as you go along the journey.
Mentorship is the key to avoiding critical mistakes. People are often willing to share as they recognise just how hard it is and have often made plenty of mistakes themselves. Inevitably you will make your own share, so you just have to get up and crack on. There is nothing more important than taking the first step and moving forward.
Mentorship is the key to avoiding critical mistakes.
What would you say are the main parallels between working as medical doctor and a healthcare entrepreneur?
The constant learning. There is a huge amount of risk but therein lies a lot of fun and a lot of reward. You need a great deal of resilience in dealing with day-to-day mistakes and trying to improve. In that sense it is quite similar to your early days as a junior doctor.
Have any books inspired you along the way?
I think a lot of business people get asked who their business mentors are and what inspirational reads they have. I generally don’t tend to read that type of literature. I love fiction. I like the escape and to immerse myself in more creative thinking than constantly being switched on into business all the time. There are many inspiring leaders but I don’t think I have to just find them in the business word. I can find them in a character in a beautiful book. Frankly I can find it from just speaking to my wife who is an amazing human being and the mother of my 2 children. So whilst I read a lot it tends to be fiction.
Along the theme of fictional literature, what is the last book you read?
I just finished “Tender Is the Night” by Fitzgerald.
Who is your favourite author?
I’d probably say my favourite author is Salman Rushdie because he writes so intelligently and with such beauty. I think I have read everything that he has published.
Finally, can you give me 3 words that summarise Doctor Care Anywhere?
Kind, compassionate and exceptional… and that refers to the people who work in the company!