Interview Series: Tom Whicher, Co-Founder, DrDoctor

In our latest interview we caught up with Tom Whicher the co-founder of DrDoctor and asked Tom a few questions.

Could you tell me a bit about yourself and your organisation?

I’m one of the three founders of DrDoctor, a digital healthcare company based in Waterloo. Our company exists because we have a vision that the future of healthcare is a smart data-driven service with patients at the centre of their own care. We believe patient empowerment is the key driver.

We started the organisation 7 years ago because we felt that there wasn’t a company out there that helped hospitals deliver better services and helped patients at the same time. We wanted to bring those two aspects together using our operational expertise with our background in delivering change in hospitals. We wanted to create the very best in patient-facing technology.

A bit about me, I love sailing and spend my weekends out on the water either raising boats or kite surfing. I have a 7-month old cocker spaniel called Dylan and I love taking him for a walk. I find that going outside really aids your thinking and being creative and it’s so much better than being cooped up inside where your ideas get stale. I’m always encouraging our team to do exactly this- to go for a nice walk and let your mind run free.

What is the most significant achievement for your organisation in the past 12 months and what will be over the next 12 months?

The last 12 months have been awesome for us at DrDoctor. We’ve been busy ensuring that our partnerships are impactful and really focus on bringing patients in as partners in their care.

A great example of this is our work on the Intelligent Outpatients project with Nottingham University Hospital, funded by the East-Midlands AHSN. We are using patient recorded outcome measures to define follow-up loads.

That matches really neatly with all the Value Based Care we’re doing with Aneurin Bevan in Wales. When I look forward to the next 12-months, we really want to build on that. The work that we have been doing in Wales is world-leading and we’e had people from around the world fly in and attend conferences we’ve run to understand it.

What excites me the most, is rolling that out further across the NHS and together developing that project further. And really bringing what matters to patients into clinical care.

I’m really proud of our DrDoctor team and I think that a company is all about its people. Everyone who works at DrDoctor shares the same sense of purpose and the same mission- of wanting to help make the world better for people. Our team want to do it in a way that is not particularly showy or arrogant. We approach our mission by trying to really understand people and by being humble. We create change subtly and gently and build together with the NHS and with patients.

I love coming into the office because I like everybody I work with and as a founder, that’s something I’m really proud of.

The next 12 months will signify a lot of growth for DrDoctor. We will be building on the success that we’ve got and increasing the size and impact of all of our teams. We also have lots of new hospitals joining our family.

We’re thrilled to have been awarded another year of the Innovation Technology Payment, funded by NHS England. This will enable us to work with a wider range of organisations. I think in a year’s time, the NHS will be acting and thinking really differently, and I hope we will be one of the agents catalysing this change.

What problems and challenges are there to overcome?

I think every period of growth comes with challenges; you have to constantly reinvent yourself. You have to ask your team to put themselves out there and to get out of their comfort zone.

I think the biggest challenge we are going to have as an organisation is to make sure we continue to push the envelope and continue to improve as people. We also need to ensure that we bring our hospital partners with us on this journey. It isn’t easy creating change in healthcare, you have to push yourself and you have to believe in yourself. Keeping the faith and motivation as we grow, is going to be key.

The thing that fuels tech companies, is change and how quickly the world underneath us is moving. The pace in tech is a real challenge, because you can essentially build a product ad it’ll be out of date in a years’ time.

We need to make sure we stay on top of the latest technologies which is why we’ve invested in moving all of our product to Microsoft Azure. That allows us to leverage their machine learning technology, scale much more quickly and to reach more patients. We want to make sure we’re always using, developing on and giving patients the latest and best in high tech.

What do you think is the biggest technology challenge?

I think the biggest technology challenge for the NHS is beginning to implement a new set of standards. Going forward, all of our interfacing will be FIHR compliant. In order for the NHS to achieve its ambitions, it needs to adopt FIHR, two-way integration and open standards at scale. That means getting lots of legacy systems to integrate with newer tech and solving lots of those dreary back-office problems.

What advice would you give to other organisations or professionals?

My key advice for other companies looking to grow in our environment, would be to be humble. Being humble allows you to have open ears and an open mind. Because working in healthcare requires you to have both.

Having open ears means that you can learn from others, and you can identify problems early on. Having an open mind means that you can have the mental flexibility to understand that you’re not always right.

By working in collaboration and by listening to patients, doctors and service providers you end up with a much better end result.

I would advise people to have tenacity, because the journey is long. It’s not like when building consumer-facing products. So you’re talking 5 – 20 year timeline not a 1 – 3 year timeline for your efforts.

I would also advise people to bring joy. Because everyone works in the health service because they care about patients. Sometimes it’s easy to forget to celebrate the successes and to enjoy the journey.

What is next in your space?

I believe what’s next in the technology space is higher levels of automation for organisations. This means further automation of routine tasks so that hospital teams can refocus their time and focus on all the value-adding work for patients.

What are you working on at the moment?

As the founder of DrDoctor what I’m working on at the moment is leading the company towards three motivations; focus, ambition and insurgency. My job is to help us find and internalise all of the three. We need to focus to make sure we are building the right things and not getting distracted from our mission.

We need ambition to make sure we are delivering at the scale to have the impact we want to have on the world. And insurgency is the feeling of creating change. We’re not a business that’s comfortable with evolution, we want to create a revolution and a fundamental change in the way healthcare is delivered.