How the founder of Push Doctor hopes to take the stress away from the NHS

 
Katherine Denham
NHS Healthcare Organisation Looks To The Future
Privatisation of any kind in the healthcare system has long been a contentious subject (Source: Getty)

Nowadays, it’s rare to hear any mention of the NHS without the word “crisis” trailing closely behind.

Increasing patient numbers and the worst winter period on record have left the NHS bowing under the pressure.

A recent report from the Institute of Fiscal Studies and the Health Foundation said taxes would have to increase by four per cent each year in order to give the ailing NHS what it needs. But the government, it seems, has got nothing left to give.

Privatisation of any kind in the healthcare system has long been a contentious subject, and yet people are now coming round to the idea that private companies could take some of the stress away from the NHS.

That’s the vision of Eren Ozagir, the founder of Push Doctor, a digital healthcare company that can book you an appointment with a GP in under six minutes. After registering, users simply select an appointment or choose the on-demand option, which connects them to a doctor via a video link.

“I just got confused. Of all the people I’d seen, I just didn’t know what to do – they were looking at me for answers when I don’t have a medical degree in anything.”

Ozagir is forthright, and he stresses that his company doesn’t want to usurp the NHS, but instead work with it.

“The digital health movement has changed the perception about what private companies could be,” he says.

“To millennials, digital is about freedom, openness, opportunity to collaborate, and a better future. This generation doesn’t think about ownership in the same way as the generation before, so it can be about collaboration of private and public, rather than ‘us and them’.”

Read more: Tax increases for the NHS are the last refuge of the unimaginative

Back-breaking

Ozagir himself doesn’t have any medical qualifications, so I ask why he decided to wade into this world.

Unfortunately, but also unsurprisingly, the business was born out of its founder’s own bad experience when trying to get medical help when he needed it.

He tells me he was injured during a session with a chiropractor. “I was running a company with a thousand employees, but I couldn’t concentrate because I was in so much pain. I finally decided to visit my NHS GP, but halfway through explaining what had happened, he interrupted me to say I had six minutes of my appointment left to choose one ailment on one part of my body.

“I thought, ‘I haven’t been to the GP in seven years – do I not have some time banked?’ So I left the surgery, and figured I would pay for a doctor to advise me, because then at least I can tell them I’m not happy.”

Ozagir ended up being passed around from doctor to doctor. He went to a neurologist, got physiological acupuncture, and even sought help from doctors in the US at thousands of dollars a pop. But he was still none the wiser about how to alleviate his injury.

“I just got confused. Of all the people I’d seen, I just didn’t know what to do – they were looking at me for answers when I don’t have a medical degree in anything.”

Eventually he managed to find a private GP in the UK, who he would text for advice. “He told me to start from the beginning, he listened without rushing me, and he had an opinion at the end. That made me feel safer and more informed about the decisions I had to make, and eventually helped me get well again.”

That’s essentially the way Push Doctor works: you can have as much time with the GP as you want (at the cost of £20 for 10 minutes, or a monthly subscription of £20 a month for unlimited access). And it doesn’t matter what country you’re in – it’s about working around the patient, rather than the other way around.

The company has about 8,000 GPs on board – all of whom are on the NHS’ performers list, and have to go through a stringent screening process, which includes a series of tests.

Essentially, the platform finds extra hours for doctors work, fitting appointments in around their day. Think of it as Uber for GPs.

Bypassing the surgery

However, Ozagir’s vision for his company goes beyond GP appointments – he wants to tap into the changing way people think about healthcare.

It goes without saying that the strain on our treasured NHS is largely down to an ageing population.

Think of it like an upside down triangle: the working population is getting smaller, but is still having to support an NHS which is serving a growing number of elderly people. And this is coupled with a generation of people who have very little savings. It’s a life for rent.

As Ozagir puts it: “There is a generation of subscribers, who don’t own a house, don’t have a pension, or any capital saved whatsoever. In order to sustain that life as a renter, you have to find money every month, which means you have to be in really good health – both physically and mentally.”

The tide is turning away from health insurance, and people are instead investing in another kind of risk mitigation: their wellbeing. The market for nutrition programmes, gym memberships, mindfulness and yoga is booming. But it’s not just a fad – it’s become a new way of life.

In the UK alone, Ozagir says the wellbeing and private medical market could top £100bn in the next decade if it continues growing at the same pace.

“People are starting to take responsibility for themselves, which is good because it means they will only use the NHS when they really need it, and the service will be able to continue to do amazing things. It’s about all the medical and wellness information existing together, so people can make an informed choice.”

Having this plethora of information at our fingertips means we can make adjustments to the way we live our daily lives – whether that’s how we exercise, what we eat, or even how we think. There’s no question that more could be done to join the dots, allowing digital health companies to collaborate closely with publicly-funded services, creating a system which aligns with complex human needs.

That is what this gregarious founder envisages. “Eventually we are going to get to the point where we are pulling data from your home, your phone, your family, your health record, and bringing that together so you can live a happier life.”

That will be the backbone to how we survive to an increasingly older age, and that is also the direction Push Doctor is heading. The company is partnering with firms that have already built products within their individual niches, which means the Push Doctor platform will be able to offer a range of other services for users, such as hypertension, diabetic, and fitness programmes.

Push Doctor has faced some scrutiny recently after its adverts were banned for suggesting its service was provided by the NHS. While Ozagir stresses that all the doctors on the platform do work for the NHS as well, he also acknowledges that it was an issue, and highlights that the company pulled the ads voluntarily two weeks before the decision was made.

But he also hints at a “forthcoming” NHS product. There’s no question that companies like Ozagir’s could give our health system the digital push it so desperately needs.

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