How one digital healthcare startup is trying to scale across Europe

By Leontina Postelnicu
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Credit: KRY

It’s no secret that the healthcare industry’s delay in getting up to speed with the digital revolution is posing additional challenges for clinicians already working under immense pressure. 

And they’re not alone, as patients themselves are growing increasingly frustrated. In the past few years, we have seen an upward trend in them voicing their struggles, with some even taking a hands-on approach to try and address them.

“I’ve been a patient myself and I’ve had my fair share of healthcare needs, but clearly there is an access problem, and there is also a lack of patient focus,” says Johannes Schildt, chief executive and cofounder of KRY (known as LIVI outside the Nordics). “And we thought that there must be a better way of solving this.”

KRY has grown to become one of the largest digital healthcare providers in Europe following its launch in March 2015, offering an app-based service that enables access to video consultations, referrals, prescriptions and more. It is currently operating in five different markets, the UK, Sweden, Norway, France and Germany.

“Since then, obviously, a lot of things have happened,” the chief executive says. 

Only last month, KRY launched its first physical centre in Malmö, Sweden [pictured on the left]. It’s an interesting move that a couple of other startups in this space have been making as of late. 

“The digital offering can’t cover all of it, and one thing that we are now starting to be very good at is bridging the digital and physical world,” Schildt says. “And we’re doing that both with partners, we partner with physical healthcare providers, making sure that we bridge the physical experience, and we’re also now starting to do that with a few of our own physical sites.” 

The cofounder remains tight-lipped about whether similar plans are in the works for other markets. “That would be possible, I can’t say more than that,” he tells MobiHealthNews. “Obviously, we have a slightly deeper service in Sweden versus other markets since we have been here longer and operating at scale.”

But we know that the company is piloting an in-store digital GP consultation service for NHS patients with Boots in the south east of England, in addition to a private service at a separate branch of the high street pharmacy chain, located in London. 

KRY's current expansion efforts

The Swedish startup entered the UK market only a year before, after securing $66m in Series B funding in a round led by Index Ventures. Now, around two million NHS patients in England are reportedly able to access their services, following several partnerships with local GP federations.

However, they are facing stern competition here, with a number of providers that are offering similar services fighting to work with the NHS. Investors are also choosing to back some, with London-headquartered Babylon Health announcing in August a $550m Series C funding round to support its expansion into the US and Asia. 

KRY’s approach is to focus on the pan-European market, where it currently sees no strong competitors.

“I think the one main difference [between Kry and other digital healthcare service providers] is that we are truly patient-focused,” Schildt [pictured on the right] argues. “I think we do have a lot of services in this space that are mainly built for the system versus being built for the patient.”

And patients seem to be the driving force behind much of the shift that we’re currently seeing across Europe, he adds. 

In Germany, a country known to be lagging behind in this area, new legislation was passed in November under which doctors will be able to prescribe apps that can be reimbursed by German statutory health insurance. 

Meanwhile, in England, according to the NHS Long Term Plan, every patient will be able to opt for digital-first primary care over the next five years.

“I think that is a very interesting movement that you haven’t really seen before, where patients themselves sort of help push for [the] change that is now happening,” Schildt says.  

The complexity of scaling

Expanding across Europe, however, is no small feat. Having to navigate complex healthcare systems, along with regulatory settings, poses significant challenges. 

“The space we’re in, it’s definitely sort of, we truly have to roll up our sleeves and go deep in each specific market and truly understand the specific pain points in the system,” Schildt says. 

“What we do is, we set out a very strong local team, we in many ways always act very locally, we employ our own clinicians (…). Part of what we do is very scalable, part of what we do is definitely a market by market exercise. In the end, it’s all about people, and we have strong local teams in all markets.”

At the moment, the company is operating as a private provider in Norway, partnering with insurance companies, as well as in Germany. 

But as digital health becomes a priority for many, it's clear that KRY's plans do not stop here.

“There are other European markets that are of interest. This is not so much a matter of if, it’s more a matter of when (...). In the UK and France, we covered those markets for a long time before we took a decision to act and start to operate within that market,” Schildt says. “We are far from done.”