…there is the great opportunity of personalized care. With the rise of digital solutions and the capability of artificial intelligence applied to the huge amount of data already available, care can be provided on a highly personal basis. Especially for chronic disease management, this is extremely valuable.
Asa part of my interview series with leaders in healthcare, I had the pleasure to interview Roeland Pater. Roeland is the founder and CEO of Nori Health — a startup developing an AI-driven chatbot coach for chronic disease management. He’s currently focused on providing this product to people living with chronic bowel diseases, such as IBD (Crohn’s, colitis) and IBS.
Thank you so much for doing this with us Roeland! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I have a commercial background but always felt that something in my professional life was missing. I’ve worked as a freelancer for many years and when I was introduced into digital health, I finally realized what I had been missing; purpose. Creating something that has real value in terms of improving health or preventing illness has been my main focus from that point. As I live with a chronic disease myself, Crohn’s Disease to be specific, chronic disease management has been my professional focus ever since.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
The most interesting by far is the evolution of the product as it changes constantly based on input from patients, healthcare professionals and AI alike. With every conversation between the chatbot and a patient, new connections are being made in terms of symptoms, lifestyle behavioral changes and personal profiles. This is the way we had envisioned it, but to see it happening is very satisfying.
Next to that, the support we get from various stakeholders in this market has been a positive surprise. You can feel the universal urge to change the healthcare system for the better — and to provide personalized care to all at the lowest cost possible.
Can you tell our readers a bit about why you are an authority in the healthcare field?
My involvement in digital health comes from a patient perspective. I’m a patient first and foremost, and a healthcare entrepreneur second. This changes the story entirely, as I’m driven by a personal need for change and improvement of treatment. In the years I’ve been working in the healthcare field now, I’ve been closely involved in building up companies from absolutely nothing but an idea. Which has been slowly building based on patient validation, data generation and implementation projects. As a team, we have a strong vision how digital health and traditional care are blending together. This drives me to build everything upon that idea and we have been doing that successfully as well.
What makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
It reflects on the question above basically. Our whole team has first-hand experience with chronic diseases — either living with it, or dealing with people close to them. This brings out an entirely different drive to make an impact. We see other companies being born from a financial motivation for example, which in my opinion is never a great way to start. Most of them will fail, especially in healthcare as it’s hard to gain your place in the care pathway.
When it comes to standing out from a business perspective, we always seek a unique position within the market. That means finding the gaps to fill to bring value to the different stakeholders — and of course within your product itself. We do that by constantly exchanging ideas with (potential) customers and implementing feedback loops for constant iteration.
Can you share with our readers about the innovations that you are bringing to and/or see in the healthcare industry? How do you envision that this might disrupt the status quo? Which “pain point” is this trying to address?
I’ve experienced first hand how challenging it is to live with a chronic disease. This will disrupt everything in your life that you take for granted right now. And with so many variables in play it’s hard, or impossible even, to provide personalized care to all. This is what others experience as well; a lack of support next to medical care. To find an acceptable quality of life by improving and stabilizing every factor that impacts that quality of life.
With Nori Health, we aim to be that support. Through conversations with chatbot coach Nori, you will discover and change factors in lifestyle behavior that have a negative impact. These can be improved with practical changes or changes in mindset — and can therefore restore balance. Nori is computer-driven in order to provide personalized care at a large scale: as she can potentially talk to millions at the same time.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
Talk to medical professionals at an early stage: a lot of knowledge is out there, and professionals are not blind to problems that exist. Even more so, they are open to help you solve them.
Don’t wait, let users test asap: you can think all you want, but you will really learn once people actually start using your innovation. So do that as soon as possible, it does not have to be perfect at all.
It’s about your team: you can’t do this on your own, no way. Innovation in healthcare requires teams, and trust in those teams. Find like-minded people and do this together.
It’s not about technology, it’s about value: people generally don’t care about how something is built, but about the value it brings. So keep that in mind at all times.
Pursue your dream, even (or especially) if it’s a moonshot: innovation can truly only happen with groundbreaking ideas that take time to implement. But just start, and it will take you places that you would never have thought of without starting.
Let’s jump to the main focus of our interview. According to this study cited by Newsweek, the US healthcare system is ranked as the worst among high income nations. This seems shocking. Can you share with us 3–5 reasons why you think the US is ranked so poorly?
I’m not an American so that makes this both hard and also interesting for me to look at. As an outsider, I feel that the biggest problem is the difference in care based on income. I firmly believe in equality when it comes to healthcare, and also the fundamental right to receive healthcare.
The idea that someone would be denied urgent care based on the fact that they cannot afford it, is mindblowing to me. This is a situation that should not exist. Same goes for proper medication which should be available for everyone. When I look at the European systems, these situations do not appear, and they should also not in the US.
Next to that it seems that regulation is holding back innovation somewhat. This happens globally, but also here the US holds strict policies that put up a large barrier for new entrants in order to bring solutions forward for validation and market introduction. The time is now to truly innovate traditional care and digital solutions will play a major role in this — as long as they get the opportunity to do so.
You are a “healthcare insider”. Can you share 5 changes that need to be made to improve the overall US healthcare system? Please share a story or example for each.
The most important one would be based on the equality issue. Quality care should be available to everyone. It’s estimated that over 28 million Americans will remain without coverage in 2025, even with the Affordable Care act.
Next to that, I see a clear trend globally where we will spend more budget on prevention instead of taking care of fighting (chronic) diseases, as this will take away at least a part of the problem instead of trying to tackle the symptoms of this problem.
On top of prevention there is the great opportunity of personalized care With the rise of digital solutions and the capability of artificial intelligence applied to the huge amount of data already available, care can be provided on a highly personal basis. Especially for chronic disease management, this is extremely valuable.
Also, decreasing healthcare cost would be an opportunity to offer equal high quality care. This could be based on the model where savings are shared, instead of revenue from patients being shared. This is a trend seen in European systems as well, where the focus is on keeping patients away from the hospital in order to decrease cost and workload. This saving is then being shared between stakeholders such as insurers and hospitals.
Thank you! It’s great to suggest changes, but what specific steps would need to be taken to implement your ideas? What can individuals, corporations, communities and leaders do to help?
Equal quality care should be rooted in a society, it’s very political. It’s difficult to make that shift overnight and it will take determination from both the public as well as from politicians fighting for this cause. The basis for such a change would be sought in money, as with almost every big change. When cost can be lowered and budgets can shift, change is possible. And lowering the cost is exactly what can be achieved by focusing more on prevention, personalization and self care.
Preventative tools will come from digital solutions mostly in my vision, and they will blend with traditional care that way. With such a small percentage of yearly healthcare spend going towards prevention, there can be a massive impact from prevention of chronic disease. More than half (!) of the US population lives with at least one chronic disease now which accounts for a majority of cost. Preventative tools can stop this from happening to future generations, and when budget frees up it can be used to empower equality in care, and availability of care first of all.
Personalized care can contribute to lowering cost even more. This is something we try to support with Nori Health as well. People that live with a chronic disease have a lack of support in between doctor check-ups already, which results in uncertainty, challenges, anxiety and stress symptoms — potentially making the condition worse and therefore increase the chance of additional treatment or hospitalizations.
In the end, it all comes down to working together. From patients to insurers, hospitals, corporations and governments — I believe everyone has the same idea about how care should be delivered and where improvements should be made. But it cannot be done without one another. This requires open dialogues and welcoming innovation.
What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a better healthcare leader? Can you explain why you like them?
It might sound a bit cheap but my main inspiration comes from patients. Of course I read books and listen to podcasts but this mostly is limited to self development — as I try to be a better or more efficient leader within our team. But the inspiration to build better things, and the motivation to keep going, comes from talking to patients and listening to their experiences and challenges.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
You can follow the progress of Nori Health through the website or Twitter. If you want to talk to me personally, please introduce yourself through LinkedIn. We are looking to work together closely with hospitals, patient foundations, insurers, pharma and other stakeholders.
Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!