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HEALTHCARE | Staff Reporter, Singapore
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NOVI Health brings holistic approach to lifestyle-based illnesses

Its team of medical specialists, dietitians, and fitness coaches offers lifestyle interventions.

With an increasingly urbanised environment and greater calorie consumption, there have been a rise in lifestyle-related illnesses. In particular, one in nine Singaporeans have diabetes, according to a government-backed study, which are expected to cause medical expenses and productivity losses of about $1.8b by 2050.

With this, three doctors came together to establish medical and digital health provider NOVI Health, with the shared goal of promoting a holistic approach to treating chronic conditions beyond prescribing medications. The business aims to seek ways to better manage, prevent or reverse lifestyle-related illnesses such as diabetes and hypertension.

Since launching in March 2019, the company has served more than 300 clients, and has recorded a retention rate of over 98%. The clients they received in the early phase of their operations largely came from word-of-mouth referrals.

In an exclusive interview with Healthcare Asia, NOVI Health’s founders Joanne Tay, Sue-Anne Toh and Kyle Tan shared about the beginnings of their business, the healthcare situation in Singapore that informed their goals, and their upcoming initiatives to broaden digital access to their offerings.

1. Can you tell us the story of how you came together and founded NOVI Health?
We started NOVI with the intention to address unmet needs that we saw in the healthcare ecosystem. At NOVI, we do things differently—by integrating clinical treatment and lifestyle interventions with technology for a more personalised, holistic solution.

In our years of serving in Singapore’s public healthcare system, we have seen a steady rise in the number of patients with chronic conditions, such as diabetes and hypertension, coming through our clinics. This was no surprise to us, given that the lifestyle behaviours which increase our risk of these conditions, such as unhealthy diets and sedentary lives, are commonplace in our society. At the same time, our population is ageing, and the risk of such conditions also increases with age. The concern with these conditions is that if not well managed, they can cause devastating consequences, such as heart attacks, strokes and kidney failure.

We wanted a way to help individuals better manage, prevent or even reverse chronic conditions, so that they could live, feel and look better.

To do this, we believed that two key elements were critical. First, we had to tackle the root cause of chronic disease, not just treat symptoms—this means helping individuals better understand how their lifestyles influence their own health, and working with them on small sustainable changes to achieve their desired outcomes. Second, we had to actively harness technology to enhance the effectiveness of care and increase efficiencies, whilst maintaining the human touch and emotional connection with our clients.

Our three co-founders come from different backgrounds—in internal medicine, metabolic conditions and preventative medicine—but our paths crossed when we worked together on healthcare programmes for the population at the regional and national levels. Working at the individual patient level as well as the broader healthcare system level gave us unique perspectives on how to help not just patients who step through our doors, but also how to drive change at scale.

It was this shared experience and belief that led us to found NOVI Health—a technology-enhanced health solution that seeks to prevent, reverse and treat chronic lifestyle diseases in a manner that is not only tailored to individuals, but can also be scaled up to larger communities.

2. What are the healthcare needs that NOVI Health addresses?
We work with a broad spectrum of clients, from those who may be healthy, to those who are at risk of, or are living with, chronic conditions. We focus on lifestyle-associated conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol, fatty liver disease, and obesity.

To help people to better assess their risk of chronic conditions, we provide health screening programmes that not only include evidence-based tests and medical examinations, but also a comprehensive lifestyle assessment that identifies opportunities to build healthier behaviours.

For those who are living with chronic conditions or precursor at-risk conditions (such as pre-diabetes), our multidisciplinary team, comprising medical specialists, dietitians, and health and fitness coaches, offers personalised lifestyle interventions, complemented by medications wherever appropriate.

We also have a proprietary mobile application that helps clients to track lifestyle behaviours and understand how the behaviours influence their health. This information helps our team to deliver tailored interventions, based on our assessments of each individual’s unique lifestyle circumstances. Importantly, the app allows us to stay in touch with our clients remotely, so that we can continue to offer advice to them even after they have stepped out of our clinic.

Our care model is also exemplified in our collaborations with industry partners. For example, NOVI Health has partnered with Thomson Medical Centre to launch the HOPE Program. This Program supports pregnant women with gestational diabetes in nutrition and lifestyle management, as well as glucose monitoring. It uniquely combines both in-person teaching and digital health coaching, so that pregnant moms can receive holistic care for their condition, whilst obviating the need for frequent trips to the clinic.

3. What are the key business milestones for NOVI Health?
We have grown quickly since launching in March 2019. We have served over 300 clients so far, with over 98% retention rate. These clients in the early phase of our operations are largely from word-of-mouth referrals. On top of walk-in clients, we now also have corporate partnerships with organisations, insurers, insurance brokers, employers, other healthcare providers, wellness providers, and medical concierges, all of which will help scale our reach. We will serve more than a thousand clients by the end of this year.

Take for example our recent collaboration with Great Eastern Life Insurance. Users of Great Eastern’s GREAT SupremeHealth have access to NOVI Health’s full suite of health and wellness solutions at preferred rates.

Separately, we are looking to expand beyond Singapore to the Southeast Asia market over the next two-three years.

4. How do you overcome your challenges as the executives of Novi Health?
As a small and nimble company, we are able to continually evolve our products and service model in response to the changing needs of the market.

Take COVID-19 for example. The implementation of measures to contain the spread of infection, such as social distancing, has created an even stronger demand for telemedicine services. Our solution already includes a digital health component, wherein we provide remote health coaching and advice to clients through our app.

In light of the current situation, we have ramped up our offerings to ensure that our clients continue to be able to seamlessly access our services and obtain their medications, without having to physically visit the clinic. This means having the option of tele-consultations via video/phone calls, remote prescriptions and delivery of medications to their residence.

The health and safety of our clients is always our top priority, and we leverage technology to that end. Flash glucose sensors, for example, enable us to continue monitoring clients’ conditions remotely, and the messaging feature of the app provides our clients with continuous access to our advice and support when needed.

5. What is Singapore's status in the global healthcare industry for metabolic diseases?
In Singapore, chronic lifestyle-related diseases, including metabolic diseases such as diabetes, pose a serious health and societal challenge. Factors such as modern lifestyles, an increasingly urbanised environment and greater calorie consumption have given rise to increased obesity, and attendant metabolic dysfunctions in children and adults. As a result, the prevalence of diabetes has increased; one in nine Singaporeans has diabetes, and the prevalence of pre-diabetes or impaired glucose tolerance (IGT) is even higher. For those in the age group 60 to 69 years, almost one in three adults have diabetes.

These have a costly impact on society. Both medical expenses and productivity losses are expected to cost about US$1.8b by 2050. The shift from healthcare to health—from symptomatic treatment to an integrated and holistic approach—is more efficient in the long run, and leads to positive outcomes.

There is thus an urgent need to identify and implement effective strategies to detect, treat, manage, and prevent metabolic diseases.

6. Any new initiatives that other healthcare providers can emulate?
Healthcare challenges in Asia and globally, such as an ageing population and increasing prevalence of chronic diseases, provide a burning platform for innovations that can improve outcomes in a cost- efficient and sustainable manner.

Technologies that can empower people to better understand their health, widen access to care, and optimise outcomes could have a significant impact on changing the course of disease. As scalable tools, digital health interventions have enormous potential to improve health and healthcare delivery for those living with chronic diseases, by improving effectiveness, efficiency, accessibility, and personalisation.

Over time, we are working towards enhancing our digital health offerings and leveraging data analytics and AI to better predict risk patterns and profiles, so that interventions can be even more efficiently and optimally targeted to each individual’s unique genetic make-up and lifestyle. In this context, NOVI Health is well-positioned to be a trusted partner by offering holistic care that integrates clinical, behavioural and digital care.

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