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16 August, 2018 - 09:02 By Tony Quested

Healthera set for further growth after £3m Series A

Cambridge-based digital health technology business Healthera is set to triple its commercial force in the UK after raising £3 million Series A cash – and has its sights set on future global expansion.

Healthera connects patients to a platform of hundreds of pharmacies and NHS GPs, allowing them to order and track prescriptions, access clinical services and monitor their medication intake in one digital end-to-end solution.

CEO and co-founder Quintus Liu told Business Weekly that the platform has ample capability to be further refined and could be scaled massively as traction with patients and healthcare professionals is continuing to grow at a rapid pace.

The startup, until now, has been funded by Cambridge Enterprise, the university’s commercialisation arm, bolstered by NHS and government cash. 

The Series A is a gamechanger on the growth roadmap: It was led by Accelerated Digital Ventures (ADV) with follow-on participation from Cambridge Enterprise, Future Care Capital and existing angel investors.

Liu said the vision for Healthera was to build the first smart platform to digitise health management for the 98 per cent of patients, pharmacies and GPs who still rely on manual and inefficient methods of interaction. 

The platform’s initial focus is on helping patients to order repeat prescriptions (used by half of all adults), but the enormous dataset also provides potential for expanding into OTC’s, data-led primary care, and real-world pharmaceutical insight. 

“This is in contrast with other solutions which are either standalone online medicine sellers, or outdated software which require too much manual work to operate,” said Liu. He co-founded the business in 2015 with fellow University of Cambridge alumni Martin Hao, the managing director, and Jin Dai (VP Product) during their last year of study. 

Progress has been head-spinning. Since commercially launching in late 2017, Healthera now connects over 800 pharmacies and GPs, tens of thousands of patients, and is partnering with NHS local authorities (CCG). Its app is listed on the official NHS App Library.

Further ratification of its services and potential came from another NHS organisation last week when  Healthera partnered with NHS Dartford Gravesham and Swanley Clinical Commissioning Group (DGS CCG) to provide mobile-based repeat prescription ordering and tracking to over a hundred thousand patients.

Liu says: “Over the past months, Healthera’s platform has won the confidence of the market as shown by the speed of adoption among patients, healthcare professionals, and NHS organisations. With the Series A investment we will be accelerating our expansion into every household, and soon, multiple healthcare verticals.”

Martin Hao added that Healthera would likely “triple the size of its commercial force” in order to gain market leadership. 

The confidence of the investors was vocalised by Mike Dimelow, chief investment officer at ADV. He said: “Repeat medical prescriptions are used by millions in the UK each year and many more across the world. 

“Paperwork, physical appointments and lack of focus on patient’s needs make this an all too often inefficient process for all involved. Healthera is tackling this by bringing clinical services, prescription and medicine intake monitoring in one consumer platform which has seen rapid uptake from pharmacists and patients since launching in Q4 2017. We expect to see this user base grow even more rapidly as the team expands across the UK and beyond towards a time of effortless prescription for those in need.”

NHS engagement

Half of all UK adults take repeat prescriptions to manage their conditions. Yet, re-ordering prescriptions monthly is notorious for being a complex, expensive and time-consuming process, usually involving paperwork and manual labour for pharmacies, GP staff and patients. 

This is all about to change for the Dartford Gravesham and Swanley region, where the nationally-popular free Healthera app has been commissioned by the CCG as the exclusive digital service for patients to order their prescriptions.

In a matter of minutes, patients can place their prescription request and track its process on the Healthera app. Patients simply select their usual GP, select a pharmacy of choice, and order their prescriptions with a few taps. The orders will be reviewed by a team of NHS medicine coordinators (under a scheme called the Prescription Ordering Direct). Once the prescriptions are ready, the chosen pharmacy will notify the patient for collection or home-delivery.

As of September 3, the new approach by Healthera and DGS CCG will replace traditional methods of ordering through the pharmacy or GP. To facilitate the partnership, Healthera has integrated its system with the Prescription Ordering Direct workflow and offered its cloud platform solution to all pharmacies in the region, over 60 sites including national chains and independent pharmacies. This enables all 135,000 patients registered with 16 participating surgeries to digitally access any local pharmacy of their choice. 

Pharmacies will also have full visibility of the prescriptions ordering process and be able to instantly communicate with patients. 

Additionally, Healthera provides records and analytics to help patients manage their medication. A carer mode also enables ordering on behalf of family members.

Together Healthera and the DGS CCG aim to help the NHS reduce medicine wastage, eliminate congestion in the prescriptions hotline, and empower community pharmacies to play a more active role in the patient’s healthcare while reducing manual workload.

Quintus Liu said: “We are proud to help the NHS pioneer a new, digital infrastructure that could transform how millions of patients manage their medication. 

“By partnering with the DGS CCG, we’re able to support prescribing decision-making at large scale while providing a uniform, transparent medication experience to all patients and pharmacists in the region. 

“Because we can roll this out quickly across the DGS region, I am confident that Healthera’s service will quickly demonstrate further reductions in medicine wastage while increasing patient satisfaction.”

Luke Tate, Prescription Ordering Direct Manager of the DGS CCG, added: “As we extend the coverage of the successful POD programme, we wanted a solution that can be more convenient for patients, further reduce pressure on the NHS, and engage community pharmacies.” 

Tate added: “Healthera seems the obvious choice, as it’s the only NHS-approved solution which provides an elegant, transparent patient journey involving the POD and all key parties. We’re excited to roll out this innovative service and see the benefits brought to our region.”

The growth roadmap

Healthera recently switched its HQ to St John’s Innovation Centre in Cambridge and the founders have already grown the team to around 15 people; two of these are field sales specialists operating UK-wide from respective bases in Manchester and Birmingham. 

That commercial team is now set to grow substantially as a result of the Series A and Liu told me that Healthera eventually aims to duplicate this model in Continental Europe and Asia in territories where the prescription medicine system replicates or is similar to that of the UK.

“We have remained very focused since we started on rolling out our business model in a sensible, manageable and profitable manner concentrating first on the sizeable UK market. 

“But we are engaging all the time with bigger and bigger pharmacy chains and medical practices so the numbers we can reach with our technology are likely to grow substantially. This means further expansion across the UK and in mid-to-late 2019 we may look to take this model overseas.”

Liu doesn’t believe the founding trio had any special Eureka, Newton’s falling apple or a blinding light bulb moment as a trigger to founding the business.

“I’m sure Newton would have developed some theories on gravity long before the apple allegedly fell on him. We identified a problem for patients, pharmacies and GPs and set about providing a solution.

“We have tried to stay focused and grounded and to date this policy has paid off for Healthera. Of course we have ambitions for major growth but we want the business to be built sustainably and organically.  

“Our long-term ambition is to build a brand that is instantly and internationally recognisable. Not everyone eats Walls ice cream, for example, but they recognise the brand. That is our vision for Healthera.”

• PHOTOGRAPH: Healthera co founders Jin Dai, Quintus Liu and Martin Hao

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