Interview by Marija Butkovic @MarijaButkovic
Lydia Yarlott is a junior doctor and co-founder of Forward Health. Forward Health is an app built by doctors, for doctors. Replacing an outdated system of pagers and landlines, Forward Health allows for secure, compliant and simple messaging between clinical teams. Forward's goal is to connect healthcare teams around the world, empowering health professionals to spend more time with their patients, doing the things that matter.
Lydia, what does your current job role entail?
As a co-founder of Forward Health, I am involved in overseeing a business that is trying to do something transformational in healthcare – empower NHS staff to use their own mobile devices to help them communicate at work. I love working for Forward Health alongside being a junior doctor in the NHS, because both roles are synergistic. The latter reminds me every day how much we need to see change in order to improve the working lives of NHS staff, and the former gives me the opportunity to channel that energy into something constructive. Forward Health aims to give healthcare professionals a tool they can use to prioritise tasks effectively and communicate with each other securely, helping them give better care to their patients.
Has it been an easy industry to get into or have you had many challenges?
I have always wanted to be a doctor, but I never saw myself working in health tech. My partner had to persuade me to start Forward Health because I just didn’t believe things inside hospitals could be changed, and certainly not by a junior doctor! The NHS is starting to embrace new technologies but the reality is it’s still a slow process. And in healthcare, you must make sure that protecting patient information is your highest priority – familiarising ourselves with the guidance and seeking expert advice on how to keep data as safe as possible is an ongoing and complex process. One of my personal challenges was the guilt I felt at spending time out of clinical practice to work on Forward. So far I have spent nearly ten years training as a doctor and that’s also my identity as a person, before Forward I had never even considered doing anything else.
How long did it take you to be where you are now? What was the biggest obstacle?
It’s taken a year to get from concept to a product that’s in the hands of thousands of UK doctors and nurses. There are many generic obstacles to getting something new off the ground – from technology to funding to hiring the right team – but there are also specific challenges to working in healthcare.
What are your projects you are currently working on?
Right now we’re focusing most of our attention on putting Forward Health in the hands of clinical staff in the UK’s hospitals. We would love to see Forward become the tool that NHS staff use to communicate.
What are your biggest achievements to date?
I actually don’t feel like I can answer this question because I think it’s all yet to be achieved. My team and I have started the journey towards taking healthcare communication into the twenty-first century, but we’re not there yet. Even when a small group of doctors or nurses get on Forward Health and tell us it’s helping, that is enough to make the hard work worth it, but I would love to see the day when clinicians aren’t battling with bleeps and pagers any longer, or resorting to sending patient information over WhatsApp. Funnily enough, a huge achievement for me would be if other grassroots NHS staff saw Forward Health and thought, “If they can, I too can make a change here”. In a massive organisation it’s easy to feel like you’re powerless to make a difference to how things are done, but the truth is we all do have that ability.
What will be the key trends in the healthtech industry in the next 5 years and where do you see it heading?
Firstly, putting patients in control of their health. As a doctor, I get nervous about concepts like home blood test kits, but I recognise that their existence heralds a new wave of consumer age healthcare. The doctor-patient relationship has been evolving into a partnership for many years now – our challenge is to find ways of completing that process that protects patients and enables doctors to do their best work. Data is another area which excites me - currently we have so much siloed information about what happens to people in and out of hospital that we are left unable to make predictions about health trends and be truly proactive about services. My feeling is we’re moving from a reactive healthcare system to a new, data driven framework where we start to understand how to manage these opportunities. I hope that by applying AI to healthcare we can start to see some really novel insights in fields such as population based predictions, early diagnosis, and personalised healthcare.
What is the most important piece of advice you can give to all female founders and female entrepreneurs in health tech out there?
My advice would be just the same for women as it is for men – with a little more emphasis on confidence. Never be afraid to approach someone with an idea – negative feedback is often way more important than positive so it’s a win-win situation! If you think it’s a big enough problem then even if there are competitors out there you know it hasn’t been solved. Try new things, constantly, and be prepared to change direction. When you start out with something, you really have no idea where it’s going. Your users or customers will show you the way, if you can really listen to them and understand what they need. Aim to empower them rather than getting stuck on your own idea. And finally, enjoy the process – even if things don’t work out, trying something completely new is an amazing experience.
This interview was conducted by Marija Butkovic, Digital Marketing and PR strategist, founder and CEO of Women of Wearables and co-founder of Kisha Smart Umbrella. She regularly writes and speaks on topics of wearable tech, fashion tech, IoT, entrepreneurship and diversity. Visit marijabutkovic.co.uk or follow Marija on Twitter @MarijaButkovic @Women_Wearables @GetKisha.