Meet The Disruptors: Joint Academy

7 minute read

2 July 2021

By Dominic Pride

Founder, Upstart

In our series “Meet the Disruptors”, Upstart introduces the individuals and organisations who are shaping the future of business, society and government. This week we chatted to Asif Dewan of Joint Academy, a healthcare provider which delivers a digital first-line treatment for osteoarthritis.

Who are you?

My name is Asif Dewan. My background is in UK health management and I am the Managing Director of Joint Academy in the UK, a telehealth platform for treating chronic joint pain that originates from Sweden. Before Joint Academy, I worked at Docly, another Swedish health startup, as well as the online health service, Babylon.

Where are you?

I am based in our UK offices in East London but many of my UK colleagues work in different locations throughout the UK. The company itself has its headquarters in Malmo, Sweden where it was originally founded. 

Tell us a little bit more about your company

Joint Academy was founded by Jakob Dahlberg, a computer scientist, and his father Leif, a prominent professor of orthopaedics. 

Sweden has been running a successful programme for the past two decades addressing the needs of people with chronic joint pain, with a focus on first line treatment and physiotherapy-led intervention. Leif, who’s still the Chief Medical Officer at Joint Academy today, was part of the team that initiated this programme and it was so successful that it eventually became Sweden’s national standard of care for people with chronic joint pain. 

Jacob and Leif decided to digitise this pathway and launched Joint Academy in 2014. 

The company began treating patients in 2016 and has since expanded into the US, followed last year by the UK, with France and Germany currently in the setup stage.

What problem are you solving?

Within healthcare circles the problem is a very well known one. People are living for longer which means issues such as osteoarthritis are becoming far more prevalent. 

Nearly 9 million people in the UK live with osteoarthritis, primarily hip and knee related. Currently the most common solution is elective surgery.

20% of patients are dissatisfied with the outcome of knee replacement surgery. There are alternatives, but early intervention and proactive management occur far too rarely, and the absence of a holistic, physio-led approach that supports patients while they’re on waiting lists for operations is also an issue.

This has been exacerbated by COVID-19, as NHS budgets and resources have been diverted to the pandemic and elective surgeries for hips and knees just haven’t taken place.

I’d also add that we don’t think of ourselves as a disruptor or a tech startup. We’re a proven and science-led, evidence-led, outcome-led organisation that’s been doing this for years. 

Who are you solving the problem for?

It’s a combination of individuals and the healthcare system. Given that in the UK, 85% of healthcare is provided by the NHS, then we’re talking about the public sector. That’s to say the £10billion+ the NHS spends per year just on osteoarthritis.

Image Source: Joint Academy - Hand Phone

Tell us more about the technologies that you use 

I like to call Joint Academy “the complete solution”.

If you look at the broader health-tech space that we occupy, there are companies that provide elements of what we do but we bring everything together into one platform. There are “triage” style sites where you can google-search symptoms and receive rudimentary information. Then you have video solutions, including YouTube channels where you can connect with a physiotherapist or clinician who typically lead you through a series of exercises.

We’ve taken a holistic approach. 

We understand the patient doesn’t just need one of those elements. They need all of the above. 

So what we have is a native app where the patient fills in their information and creates a profile. They are then connected with a licensed and trained physiotherapist who diagnoses the patient and sets up a programme based on their condition. 

I’d also stress that osteoarthritis is a chronic condition that fluctuates over time so the physiotherapist is always available to adapt the programme to the patient accordingly.

What are you doing that’s disruptive?

“For me, disruption is about making things better. This means collaborating with NHS partners to say this is the status quo and this is what we can do better based on evidence and the outcomes. ”

— Asif Dewan, Managing Director, Joint Academy

In addition, we are only a handful of tech-health companies whose solutions have been tested successfully in a  “gold standard” RCT (randomised controlled trial). 

How different do you think your industry will look in five years’ time?

If we look at the trajectory of UK health-tech, Babylon remains the industry standard. When it was first introduced, remote care and video consultations didn’t have a good reputation.  But when COVID-19 hit, it was as if someone had flipped a switch as general practices rushed to adopt digital consultations. 

I think we will also see a shift in chronic disease management. There will be early adopters who see the successful work we’ve been doing in Sweden and who will want to bring it to the NHS. There will be some resistance because in the UK, we’ve always done things in a certain way. It will either be an overnight thing like the way COVID-19 disrupted primary care, or it will be a gradual process where people realise over time that the solution works and is delivering good patient outcomes.

Why is now the right time for digital treatment of musculoskeletal conditions?

There’s not a day that goes by when there isn’t a major news article about patients waiting years for a hip or knee replacement. The chronic joint pain crisis is real — people are in pain, they struggle moving, and they haven’t been able to get the medical help they’re entitled to. We’re here to help.

Are you able to discuss your business model? How does the platform generate revenues?

We have a three-fold market:

NHS - which covers about 85% of healthcare in the UK both in terms of working with hospital partners and also community physios and GPs. 

Insurers - since chronic joint pain is such a huge issue, a lot of expenditure for insurance companies goes to managing people with chronic joint pain and paying for hip and knee replacements. Just like with the NHS, we’re able to offer them a much more cost-efficient model that’s often better for the patients.

Self-pay - this is something we’re currently exploring and that’s available now for people who are motivated to get better outcomes and to seek treatments that aren’t surgery. 

Remote physio platforms have been around for years but Joint Academy has really taken off. What do you put that down to? How have you been able to gain traction?

We’ve just passed 50,000 patients globally, with the vast majority of patients being in Sweden. Our growth month on month is exponential. We’re hoping to replicate that in the UK, where the population is six times larger. I put our growth down to the following:

Science and evidence-based - not just activity data, but outcome-based data

Blending of technology with a clinician - access to a human being at the end of the day

Our founding team - blending decades worth of scientific research and knowledge with smart  technology successfully built and adapted for different national markets.

You can find out more about Joint Academy HERE.

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