Access to healthcare sounds like a simple concept – but it can mean radically different things depending on where you live.
That was one of the key insights from the inaugural Healthcare Access Challenge (Sandoz HACk), which concluded this week in London with the announcement of the three winning entries, from Ghana, the Maldives and the Philippines.
The winning entries addressed access-related issues ranging from online education for pharmacists in rural areas of Africa, to geolocation-enabled blood donations in the Indian Ocean, and empowering civilians in South East Asia to deliver emergency medical aid in remote areas.
Other ideas presented by finalists in London included an app-based approach to addressing mental health concerns among refugees in Germany, a digital solution to help tackle product quality issues in Pakistan, and an “Uber-style” approach to getting medicines to patients in South Africa.
Steffen Kurzawa, Sandoz Global Head of Communications, said: “Despite the wide diversity of ideas, there is one common theme: improving patient access to medicines, medical information and medical training. All contribute to the key global development goal of ensuring universal access to healthcare.
“In practice, access means meeting the most pressing needs of patients where they actually live, in the context of the communities they live in. Those needs may differ enormously for a newborn baby in the Maldives, a traumatized refugee in a northern European city, or an under-resourced pharmacist in a West African village.
“And the six finalists in London represented just the tip of the iceberg. In total, we received nearly 150 submissions from 30 countries. It was tough enough to choose the finalists from this inspiring field of ideas – and even tougher to select the three winners out of the final six.”
But a competition means somebody has to win! So let’s take a look back at how the HACk got started, what happened behind the scenes in London, and where we go from here.
The road to London
The journey to London all began with the Sandoz HACk call for entries, which kicked off in September 2016. Between September and the submission close, in December, we received approximately 150 entries from 30 countries, across five continents.
Then the holiday break saw turkey and Christmas carols take a back seat to the arduous process of selecting the six finalists, with some hard choices made among a wide range of innovative and often inspiring ideas.
We invited them to compete for funding but at the same time they saw equal or more value in supporting each other to make their dreams come true.
Once the finalists were chosen, the next step was to start refining their ideas ahead of the March event – and that’s where OpenIDEO came in, at the start of the social nurturing phase. Each finalist posted their access to healthcare idea online and invited open feedback from a global community of technological and entrepreneurial specialists.
In parallel, finalists received feedback from Sandoz experts in a range of functional disciplines ranging from medical and marketing to finance, IT and strategic planning.
Live in London – behind the scenes
Collaboration was always supposed to be a key theme of the Sandoz HACk, given that the underlying philosophy was based on the global nature of the access challenge: no one person, organization or government can solve it on their own.
But, as Sandoz strategy expert Thalia Ucksche commented: “I think we were all quite taken aback by their supportive attitude. When we first arrived at the hotel, we found them in deep conversation across the teams. They had chairs pulled together to facilitate their exchange. This triggered quite some reflection in the corporate team. We invited them to compete for funding and they gave their best to win for their idea. At the same time they saw equal or more value in supporting each other to make their dreams come true.”
Day One (Monday) saw the finalists, experts and judges split into teams for a series of tasks aimed at refining their common understanding of access challenges worldwide, brainstorming possible solutions to some commonly recognized problems, and creating their “personal access pledge”.
On Tuesday, things got “serious”, with the finalists interacting both individually and as groups with a range of experts, all committed to providing additional perspectives and helping them finalize the details of their presentations to the judges at Wired Health 2017 the following day. This was also the first time the finalists got to present their ideas on stage, in a live rehearsal combined with a panel discussion with Sandoz CEO Richard Francis.
The Day Two agenda included top-level talks on “Building a Digital Future” by Roberto Ascione, CEO of Healthware International, and “Making Access Happen” by Richard Francis, as well as a lively “grass-roots” introduction to succeeding as an entrepreneur by Fredrik Debong, founder of diabetes patient support organization MySugr (entitled “Why entrepreneurs are idiots and other lessons I’ve learned!”)
On Day Three, the scene shifted to the Wired Health 2017 conference, where the five judges (two from Sandoz and three from outside the company) heard all six finalists present their ideas, before selecting the winners – who were then announced to the waiting audience.
Sandoz judge Harald Nusser commented afterwards: “Choosing the winners was really tough, as all six ideas were really serious contenders. Indeed, we had a lively and lengthy discussion before reaching our final decision, and ended up taking it quite close to the wire in timing terms!”
“After the HACk is before the HACk”
As the dust settles on the inaugural Sandoz HACk, the big question is what happens next. Sandoz Corporate Responsibility manager Fiona Cook says: “The next steps will come in two phases.
After the game is before the game! The access challenge doesn’t stand still, and neither do we.
“First, we will do everything we can to help the winners – not to mention the other finalists – get their ideas off the ground and into action. That means both providing the promised financial support for the winners but also, possibly more importantly, offering ongoing practical support and mentoring to help make these great ideas happen.
“Then, as a famous German football coach used to say, ‘after the game is before the game’! We’re already in planning mode for the next Sandoz HACk, looking at how we can work collaboratively to support great ideas also in years to come. The access challenge doesn’t stand still – and neither do we!”