Interview Series: Dr Imran Mahmud, Nye Health

In our latest edition of our 20 Interviews in 20 Days feature, we interviewed Dr Imran Mahmud, from Nye Health, a health tech startup making an impact in primary care with teleconsultations.

Can you tell me about yourself and your work?

I’m one of the co-founders of the company, along with our CEO Alexander Finlayson​ and our third co-founder Chris Tan. Our backgrounds are all in medicine and healthcare research and we essentially met at Oxford University where we were medical students or junior doctors.

We had been working together for a little while now on this company Nye, which is named after the NHS founder Aneurin Bevan, it’s a bit of a homage to the roots of the healthcare system that the three of us started our careers in. Essentially, we have been trying to find out how technology can make the lives of healthcare staff easier and also for patients as we transition to a more data driven world.

When did the company start?

We were incorporated at the beginning of 2018, and we started working with GP practices in Oxford to try to develop some simple tools they could use in their care for patients. That was a bit of a low-key affair, it was progressing at what feels like in hindsight at quite a steady pace, we basically developed some tools to support teleconsultations.

Pretty much all of the practices in Oxford adopted the tools by about February 2020, our software is a telecoms package which makes it really easy for doctors to contact their patients via telephone or video. So that was developed in the GP practices and developed hand in hand with the GPs that are practising there. Alexander our CEO is a practising GP and still does a clinic every Friday, so he’s been really front and centre of that process. Most of what was happening was on the basis of it not being very public, there was no website or marketing or anything like that, but just sort of word of mouth.

Then in March as the care delivery models in the NHS began to change, specifically lots of doctors having to consult their patients without being able to see them in the practice, with the patients being at home, the second major change that happened is that doctors were needing to work from home.

What’s life been like for you over the last 2 months?

What we find is that for all the talk about video and fancy stuff, it’s more preferred by doctors and patients just to make telephone calls and use simple tech in a secure and compliant way. So, if a doctor uses our app, their personal details are not shared with a patient, the patient doesn’t see a withheld number, they are more likely to answer it. But the patients cannot call the number back so that keeps it safe. You can imagine if you had a phone system where patients can text you in the middle of the night that brings all sorts of risks. We also keep all of the patient’s information off of the doctor’s device so they can use it on their smartphone; if they do so, it doesn’t leave any footprints on the doctor’s device. It just helps keep everything all in the right place. As a consequence, I think basically 90% of all remote consultations are happening by telephone, they are not happening by video.

Could you tell me about your recent work with Oxford University?

Our long-term vision has always been to bridge the gap between improving access to care and helping people to contribute to important research. Chris, one of my co-founders has a PhD in medical research, Alexander is a fellow at the University of Oxford and my background in addition to clinical practice is also being a lecturer at one of Oxford’s colleges, so we understand the space that we want to have an impact on.

Our remote consulting solution is being used to allow researchers and clinicians to work from home, and for the team to keep in close contact with study participants throughout the trial regardless of their location.

I think what they really appreciated about this platform is that they self-served themselves to get on. In the NHS there are some complex systems where you need 10 bits of information on a patient in order to start a contact, but for our system you just need the patients phone number, you don’t need anything else. It is one piece of data, and with that one piece of data you can place a telephone or video call so it really is the simplest experience.

From a patient’s perspective, we think it’s the only system where the patient’s phone actually rings on a video call. All of the other systems that are out there are digital waiting rooms, where you have a waiting room and a queue, similar to where a doctors sits in an office and calls you in, and they’ve just replicated that digitally; a digital waiting room with a one-time link. Our system has turned that on its head, and we’ve gone for a much more consumer experience where the doctor dials the patient and the phone rings in the patient’s pocket to go into a video call. It’s a small thing but it makes a big impact for patients because they don’t have to pause their day.

What’s next for you?

We were planning to go deep in terms of our applications with much more powerful features which would incrementally solve more and more problems for the user. What we’ve found is by abstracting a little bit, is to make it simpler from a browser, smartphone or anything else, we’ve been able to build something that’s useful but on a much larger scale.

We are trying to go back to our original roadmap which is going deeper into the features. Doing much more powerful stuff, supporting more elements of the doctors workflow, more intelligent recommendations to the doctor, and being able to offer patients much more useful capabilities than just video, allowing them to be more in control of their data and starting to give them a more personalised experience. On the research side there are more trials looking to provide similar support, so there are a number of those in the pipeline at the moment.

What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve been given?

The most useful and practical career advice, I think, there’s one piece of advice that helped me more than any other, which was something that Jeff Bezos included in shareholder letters. He described decisions as being of two kinds, those which are easily reversible and those which are not easily reversible. Being clear in any decision about how reversible it is, should you make a mistake, will change how you think about the decision making process.

And your go to entertainment at the moment?

We’ve got 3 kids so it’s definitely spending time with them, so we’ve got a 5 months old, seeing her develop is amazing. Other than that, we have a little patch with vegetables that we are trying to maintain, so it has been a lot of fun.

Anything else?

Our software is something that has been developed inside the NHS, and that’s been important. The other thing I’d say is that we are really excited by the response of the healthcare system to this crisis, and it shows that the support is there for the agility of the system to follow and the way that people have adopted tools like ours in this time is heartening. We feel very optimistic about what that future looks like and hopefully our little company can play a role in that.