Digital healthcare is spawning a plethora of product innovation and new service lines, but if one has come into its own over the last 12 months, it is remote consultation and HealthHero is fast emerging as one of the leading players in the field. Co-founder and CEO Ranjan Singh talks to Maria Davies about how the company has landed on that sweet spot of accelerated growth in a rapidly expanding market
An unknown name in the UK healthcare sector just 12 months ago, HealthHero is fast emerging as one of the leading lights in the digital healthcare market. Backed by investment house Marcol and entrepreneur and CEO Ranjan Singh, the telehealth specialist has expanded rapidly in the wake of Covid-19, which has injected a decade’s worth of progress into the remote consultation market in the space of a few months.
The company, which incorporates the online consultation business formerly branded Medical Solutions, has forged partnerships with a growing list of PMI companies, intermediaries and blue-chip clients eager to ensure their customers and employees have continued access to healthcare during the pandemic. Combined with targeted acquisitions, this has propelled the business to become one of the largest players in the European telehealth market.
It now has three divisions – its corporate-facing enterprise business, an NHS proposition and growing international arm – serving over 1,000 businesses and around 20 million patients across the UK, Ireland and Germany.
In 2020, it bought Berlin-based telemedicine platform Fernarzt.com and workplace mental wellbeing provider Validium and in the space of the last three months it has added to its portfolio with the acquisition of UK-based Doctorlink and Irish telehealth provider MyClinic.ie.
Singh, who took over as CEO in 2019, is no stranger to buy and build. He has been investing and scaling digital businesses for over 20 years – as an executive, an entrepreneur and roles in private equity.
He began his career in the digital travel sector in 2002 just after the burst of the dotcom bubble, moving from Expedia to ebookers and then on to start his own online travel company, before taking the plunge into the still nascent digital health market seven years ago.
The following transcript of HMuk’s interview
with Ranjan Singh has been edited for brevity
You began your career in the travel sector with Expedia and ebookers, eventually moving on to start your own online travel business. How does the digital healthcare sector compare to the early days of dotcom?
I have a sense of deja vu and am reminded of what I saw in travel 20 years ago.
Back then, travel was this massive industry poised to go through major transformation because of digital. And at the same time there was a lot of excitement around it and a lot of new business models but no established winning models. At that time, Travelocity was significantly bigger than Expedia, Booking.com was a minnow, and Airbnb was nowhere to be seen.
IS POISED TO
DIGITAL BUT AT THE
ARE NO DOMINANT
In other words, it was very early days, but we knew it was going to change massively. I see the same thing happening today in healthcare. The world’s biggest sector is poised to change through digital, but at the moment there are no dominant business models.
However, at the same time, there’s been a lot of excitement and a lot of innovation and over the last few years digital health has become one of the highest funded sectors in venture capital funding, if not the highest.
Digital healthcare covers a broad range of service lines, what for you is the area most likely to see growth in the short term?
Remote consultations are where digital delivery can have the most impact and adoption potential is higher than ever. If you look at this sector in Europe alone, there are four billion consultations per year, which is very exciting in terms of market size.
Various studies have shown that about 70% to 80% of these consultations could be delivered entirely remotely, with the same or more effective patient outcomes. Yet before Covid, less than 1% was happening digitally across Europe. So, there are huge opportunities both in the UK and abroad and what makes those opportunities even more tangible for us is that there are no behemoths in the sector.
I’m not competing with Amazon or Google or Facebook, so we have the opportunity to become the dominant player in a growing market.
The company has scaled up rapidly over the past year. How much of that was planned and how much in response to the Covid-19 pandemic?
It was all part of our strategic plan but greatly accelerated in response to the pandemic. Organic volume growth has more than trebled. A part of that was because of the pandemic, but a large part was because we actively seek new clients all the time.
Major strategic partnerships have driven growth, but we had also planned to make acquisitions before the pandemic. There were opportunities in front of us, and maybe some of those opportunities came because of the pandemic, but we were far more determined to move at speed.
Acceleration due to the pandemic was almost accidental.
Has the surge in interest in digital technology made it easier to raise capital and fund acquisitions?
Absolutely. There has been a lot of interest in health and I get proactive approaches from blue chip investors on a weekly basis.
If you look at any digital sub sector, telehealth has been an outlier in that golden quadrant of being cyclically most positive because of the current situation, as well as structurally very positive. Things were headed in this direction anyway. And then at the same time, other sectors have been battered.
So, if you look at asset classes that investors are attracted to, the telehealth sector stands out and investors always look for the most promising players.
We’ve had a lot of interest but so far Marcol has been our key investor. It is a big investment house with very deep pockets and has funded our growth, but we will be looking to raise a major amount of capital this year.
WE ARE THE ONLY
COMPANY IN THE
HAS BEEN RATED
BY THE CQC TWO
YEARS IN A ROW.
AT THE SAME TIME,
WE ARE DIGITAL
Many new companies have emerged in the digital health space in the last 12 months, do you think there will be a major shakeout in the market similar to what happened to dotcom in the early 2000s?
When there is a boom of the kind we see happening in the digital health sector right now, it attracts a lot of new market entrants, both because of the excitement and the lack of other options. However, I think healthcare is very different.
One of the reasons for our success so far is that we are the perfect ‘yin and yang’ ‒ a healthcare company on one hand and a tech company on the other. We are natives in both these areas and that is really important to get right in healthcare because unlike other digital plays, where the motto is move fast, break things, fail fast, healthcare is a regulated environment. You have to have a deep regard for the clinical service delivery in a regulated market.
We are the only telehealth company in the country that has been rated outstanding by the CQC two years in a row. At the same time, we are digital natives. That’s really important to understand.
If you are overweight on tech and digital and you don’t understand healthcare, you will crash and burn. You might have a shiny new app but if you don’t understand how that care is delivered, you won’t survive in this market.
At the same time, if you’re overweight on healthcare, you might not be able to push the boundaries of digital innovation. Getting the mix right has been the key to our success.
Historically, there has been some resistance to telehealth among parts of the medical profession. How much has Covid changed that?
It’s not just clinicians. Historically, there has also been some resistance from providers and payors as well, but when during the March lockdown everyone had to adapt almost overnight, people realised that remote consultation is not only effective but also simple.
We’ve seen a seismic shift in attitudes. Does that mean that when everything settles down, adoption will remain at current levels? No. Some of the old ways will creep in, but digital is still going to be operating at a significantly higher base than it was before the pandemic.
Do you think digital consultation will become more widely accepted as an integral part of service delivery?
If you look at what happened in dotcom in the early days, people used to think in terms of shopping versus e-commerce, offline versus online shopping, but consumers don’t think in that way. They don’t think ‘I’m going online shopping now’ or ‘I’m going offline shopping now’, they just go shopping when they need to buy something. But they do want the experience to be seamless and user-centric.
I think healthcare is going in the same direction. As a patient, I want to look after my health and I can do that in a number of ways. I can consult an online triage tool which might put my mind at rest or I can decide to consult a clinical pharmacist or prescribing nurse, or I might feel I need to see a doctor. And I can then choose whether I do that online or in person. It’s about having a continuum and I think we will see increased convergence of digital and physical healthcare.
It’s all about the most efficient and effective way to deliver healthcare to the individual right now. You can start on a digital journey and then if you then need a physical intervention, some of the initial reports and diagnostics might already be available digitally and that will make the process more seamless for the patient.
Digital health is becoming a crowded market, is it set for a shakeout?
There is going to be consolidation. That is the short answer.
I think, like with any business, relationships matter and where there is a B2B market like in the UK, being able to do big strategic deals as well as work in partnership with the NHS is important.
Yes, there will be a long tail of small players who will for historical reasons have focused on a particular niche or particular client so will have those relationships, but broadly, both the B2B and B2C markets are going to be dominated by a handful of players.
I think there are two kinds of providers right now – those who have a more general, holistic approach covering a wide range of conditions and services where scale really matters, and those that specialise in particular specialties or conditions, such as mental health or MSK [Musculoskeletal], who can go deeper into those markets vertically.
So, I think it’s going to be a T-shaped kind of market that evolves.
Where do you see the biggest growth potential for the business in the immediate term?
We are very excited about each of our business areas.
I’m excited about the enterprise side because there is a lot happening in the insurance and corporate sector.
I’m excited about being able to bring new services and extend our service delivery in the NHS and, equally, our international markets are poised for ballistic growth this year.
Germany, for example, is set to grow four-fold this year compared to last, so I think we are in a really good place. My focus is on how I cater to all these exciting opportunities and prioritise resources to have the maximum impact.
What are your main priorities for the next 12 months?
We’ve got the building blocks of the business in place and now we’ve got to scale up and build up a position of dominance in this structure.
We’ve established ourselves as leaders and 2021 for us is going to be about extending that lead and being the undisputed European digital telehealth champion.
We are planning to significantly scale our NHS business and are on the verge of major strategic partnerships in the enterprise side. Plus, we plan to launch a corporate health and wellbeing proposition and continue our international expansion.
That’s from a business perspective, but from a non-business perspective, we are genuinely driven by making a difference to how healthcare is delivered; making it better and more efficient and focusing on patient outcomes. If we are doing that well, we can also make an impact beyond our business.