Australian digital health startup Cardihab is changing the lives of thousands of people with cardiac disease – the world’s biggest killer. Cardihab’s patient-centred virtual care platform provides a new solution to chronic disease management and is engaging more patients in life changing cardiac rehabilitation. Cardihab CEO Helen Souris tells us how clinicians are stepping up to patient demands for digital health.
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1. What inspired you to develop your idea? Cardihab was inspired by a need to help people, particularly those in regional and rural communities’ access cardiac rehabilitation.
“While cardiac rehabilitation is proven to lead to better patient outcomes, around 80 per cent of patients don’t access it.”
Many people lead busy lives and it’s a struggle to find two to three hours, two to three times a week to complete a program in person. It’s completely unacceptable that so many people are missing out when the solution is so addressable.
I joined Cardihab in June 2019 with the belief and conviction to change these statistics.
The company came into being in 2016 as a spinoff from a joint venture between Commonwealth Science and Industrial Research Organisation and Queensland Health. Today Cardihab is empowering clinicians across Australia with better tools for patient evaluation and management and giving cardiac patients the means to lead healthier and happier lives.
2. How have your priorities changed from when you first started?
I was initially engaged as a consultant to assist with the business model. I engaged a number of experienced and very knowledgeable people in cardiology and cardiac rehabilitation, and the more I spoke to them, the more I realised the company needed someone who believed in the solution and had the know-how to commercialise it. I filled the position of CEO, which was vacant at the time, and I’m fortunate to be able to see through the strategic vision I wrote for the company.
When I first joined, Cardihab was still in the infant stage of translating from an academic discovery project into a commercial grade product. It was about getting Cardihab ready for commercial companies, understanding the market and how a digital product would be expected to solve a health need.
We also undertook a rigorous quality management and governance process review to enable our product to be registered on the TGA as a medical device.
Today, Cardihab is not only a digital health solution for clinicians and patients, but also a leading real-world evidence generator with data and analytics that can drive amazing decision support for clinicians and policymakers.
3. Knowing what you know now, is there anything you would have done differently when you were first starting out?
It’s every startup’s dream to have as much capital as you need to get what you want to get done, and quickly. If I could’ve doubled the capital raise in our first-time round we would’ve been able to reach our objectives faster.
4. What challenges did you have to overcome at the beginning of your journey?
“Digital health has been embraced more rapidly by consumers than by the health system.”
Consumers are demanding digital health and recent funding has helped to get more traction amidst COVID-19. But healthcare professionals are generally risk averse.
It requires detailed understanding of clinical and patient needs, change management assurance and also authentic credibility, rigor and trust that you can deliver a safe and sturdy product.
5. What entrepreneurial tricks have you discovered to keep you focused?
We empathise with the people we are selling to, that’s an important strength and our customers know we’re in it for the long-haul and not a quick sale. We’ve built great long-term relationships because we work alongside them.
6. What advice would you give to someone who is trying to become an entrepreneur?
“Remember it's a marathon, not a sprint.”
Know what good looks like before you start so that you know what you're aiming for, and you're not biting off more than you can chew. Sometimes, strategically stopping is the most critical thing you can do. We had to stop quite a few times in our early stages. There were things that were a distraction and were taking our focus off the core things that would drive a result for the business.
You also need to be ruthlessly honest with yourself about your strengths and weaknesses. I know a couple of entrepreneurs who started their own businesses thinking they could change the world. They realised pretty quickly how much selling was involved and hated it.
If you feel energised by selling your concepts to people, then you're going to love being in a startup. But if you hate selling, don't do it. I just say give the idea to someone else and let them make it happen.
7. How did you establish your culture?
Culture is connected to authenticity. It's impossible to do well, if you're not authentic, around what your beliefs are and how you represent yourself. We have a beautiful team of people who are fun, engaged, enthusiastic and love what they do. But they’re also completely empathetic, respectful, sincere and authentic in the way that they approach what they do in life as well. We have this beautiful, shared goal and want to make a difference.
We recruit people that have those same fundamental human beliefs and ethos. It's pretty clear when people have aligned values in life, you kind of see it.
“You have to be transparent with your team and keep it real.”
We've got a feedback mantra, which is tell people feedback in a way that is timely, polite, respectful, but also candid and not too orchestrated. If someone has lettuce in their teeth, tell them straight away! I also think it's everyone's responsibility to keep that culture alive.
8. How do you define success?
Getting what you aim for. If your aim for the day is to make five phone calls and for each of them to have a good outcome, then that's success. You have to celebrate the small things as well as the big things.
9. What have you enjoyed most about starting your own company?
I'm obsessed with technology. I studied statistics and computer science at university. And I was promised the day would come when technology, data and health might all come together to make a meaningful difference.
“I feel like this is the moment, this is the decade where technology and health will come together and bring about change.”
10. What are you working on now?
We're at an incredibly exciting stage. We’re starting our data journey and it’s a big journey.
After the process of assessment, analysis and modelling is completed, we expect to have the most incredible narrative around patient journeys. And that will go back into our product and deliver even greater support for patients and clinicians.
“We're starting to see outcomes that we hypothesised were possible.”
We're also working with amazing partners such as the Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute to conduct clinical trials and cohort studies that provide broader and new evidence of the effectiveness of digital approaches to cardiovascular disease management, rehabilitation, prevention and treatment as well as the application of digital cardiac rehabilitation in new areas such as cardio-oncology and Long-COVID.
11. How do you see your company evolving over the next 10 years?
“I see a bright future for cardiology.”
Cardihab will be a company that offers a range of clinically guided technology solutions for all aspects of cardiovascular disease management. We now know a personalised and structured care plan approach through technology is making a difference. In the future, Cardihab will be an equally powerful data business that supports proactive and reactive clinical decision-making and empowers patients to better self-manage their disease.