If you're sick, you should go to see the doctor, that's clear. But do you really have to go there physically all the time? Not necessarily - thanks to so-called video consultations. One provider of such services is the Berlin-based healthcare company Curalie, whose app not only allows users to make doctor's appointments, but also offers more in-depth health programs. CEO Daniela Hommel tells us where machine learning comes into play here and how the idea for the holistic concept came about.
Dear Ms. Hommel, thank you very much for your time and the interview. Since it fits well with your solution: What do you do for yourself when you notice that the winter blues are setting in?
The best medicine for me is nature. I spend as much time outside as possible. Especially in the dark season, I like to go outside in the mornings at the weekend. Running or mountain biking automatically lifts my spirits. Watching the sunrise also chases away any winter blues.
Would you please introduce yourself and Curalie to our readers?
I have a degree in business administration and have worked at Fresenius for over ten years in various positions. A few weeks ago, I became CEO of Curalie, a subsidiary of Fresenius. The topic of health has always been with me. Chronic illnesses run in my family, as they do in most families in Germany. I've read a lot about the subject and I'm convinced that even small changes in everyday life can help to prevent these diseases or to live healthier with them in the long term.
The fact that I can directly contribute in my job to giving more and more people the opportunity to access healthcare is a real gift for me. Curalie is an app with many preventive health-related offers. Almost anyone can find in it, depending on their health disposition, a suitable offer for prevention, but also the quick way to a video consultation for acute symptoms. Behind this is an entire ecosystem with connected doctors, digital prevention and health programs as well as tracking options for activities, symptoms, and medications. Our goal is to help people take their health into their own hands. We have a clear mission: step by step to better health. That's what convinced me immediately when I joined Curalie four years ago.
Curalie comprises a broad range of digital health programs and applications. Where did the idea for this holistic concept come from?
Health care today is usually selective - people get sick, seek help from a doctor, get treated, and usually don't pay much attention to their health afterwards. Only when it is actually too late does the focus shift back to staying healthy. In principle, this also applies to people with chronic illnesses, who also often go for regular preventive medical check-ups. It can be very helpful to be regularly reminded and motivated by a digital companion in everyday life. Most diseases develop very slowly, so we are convinced that continuous medical prevention could prevent many diseases or at least minimize their effects. It became clear to us very quickly: You have to approach this topic holistically, otherwise you can't give the necessary sustainable support in everyday life! We consistently pursue this approach, even though focus is crucial for a startup, especially in the initial phase.
In the meantime, we have developed medical concepts for the world's most common diseases that enable remote doctors to identify risk factors at an early stage and thus preventively delay the onset of diseases, but also to facilitate access to care for those who are already ill. We do the latter by offering not only digital programs but also the booking of video consultations with qualified doctors (in the future with a choice of specialists). With the Helios network of clinics and medical care centers, we can also be there for people outside the digital world. The so-called "user journey", i.e. the medical treatment path, must not be interrupted, especially in the healthcare sector. In terms of prevention, the app's features and programs provide information and suggestions for health-promoting behavior.
What was the development process of your app like? What technical challenges did you face? What lessons did you learn?
Our multimodal approach and our efforts to scale internationally in particular have repeatedly presented us with complex development challenges. One example: After we developed our first healthcare program, the question arose of how we could guarantee a one-to-one patient identity. All data, whether symptoms, medications or even activities, regardless of where they were entered in the app, must be assigned to the user in a profile. All processes within the app must be interlinked. Only in this way is a holistic picture possible, for users and doctors alike.
Another example: As part of our internationalization, the question arose very early on as to how we could enter the market with as standardized an approach as possible and gradually roll out the entire range of Curalie offerings. For us, a standardized approach in this context does not mean simply transferring our offerings into the new language. Each country has its own specifics - culturally, medically and socially. That's why we have developed and implemented a standardized process for localization. We work with an internal team of professional writers and process managers who ensure that the content is tailored precisely to the target.
Additional complexity comes from connecting the digital world with the physical world. More than half of the world's people lack comprehensive access to basic healthcare. With our cooperation partner Helios Global Health, we have developed C4U2BE for this reason. "Care for you to be" is tailored infrastructure that combines physical and digital medicine at the highest level and brings medicine flexibly to where it is needed. As a walk-in solution or after an initial video consultation with an online doctor, the necessary medical examinations can be carried out in a so-called CUBE under the guidance of specialist staff. On-site diagnostics such as radiology, ultrasound, blood pressure and intraocular pressure measurement thus become available in one physical unit. The results are immediately made available to the cooperating physicians via Curalie. In this way, cardiovascular diseases or diabetes, among others, can be medically monitored and treated. The optimal connection of both worlds.
All of these issues bring with them a complexity that, to our knowledge, no one else in healthcare has solved yet. We evolve with every step and have implemented a consistent learning culture. We work in an agile manner, are flexible and open to new solutions. This is what distinguishes our team and every single employee of our company.
You work with industry experts to keep medical requirements up to date. Do you use AI to develop new features? If so, in which areas?
We use machine learning and algorithms to suggest the best treatment path for our patients in the future. Our algorithms are developed based on medical guidelines and are continuously validated and refined using real, anonymized data in practice. Our network of medical experts enables us not only to reduce medical treatment paths to the absolute essentials and suggest safe treatment to the doctors, but also to optimize these diagnostic algorithms in real operation with them. Over time, the prognoses become more and more accurate.
As part of the Helios Global Health network, which is revolutionizing digital healthcare with its applications, you are taking an enormous load off the healthcare system. How do you benefit from this network?
The greatest benefit for us as a Curalie in the Helios Global Health network is the availability of Helios' medical experts: for the development of the offers, but also as indispensable partners in further treatment (telemedical, diagnostic and on-site). From our point of view, a digital treatment path alone is not enough, especially in the healthcare sector; the interfaces to the real world must function smoothly. We can ensure this in the Helios Global Health universe. Another advantage is access to international markets. Together with Helios Global Health, we offer people in medically underserved areas "access to care." Just a few days ago, for example, we successfully entered the market in Kenya.
In addition to your holistic health offer, you form the interface to cooperation partners, health facilities and doctors. How does the integration of the respective partners work in detail?
We have various cooperation models that primarily aim to expand the respective "user journey" for our or our partners' users. The cooperation can range from a mere marketing partnership to a direct integration. The top priority is always the reliability of the offers and the security of the user data. It is also important to note that the user decides - in consultation with a doctor - whether to accept a partner offer or to pass on his or her data.
We would like to support healthcare facilities and doctors in the treatment of their patients. For chronically ill patients, our health programs offer information and orientation, provide tips for everyday life and motivate people to adopt healthy behaviors. In addition, Curalie provides reliable health parameters that the patient collects in the Curalie app or makes available via an upload. All data released by the patient can be viewed via our "Curalie Pro" software for the treating medical staff.
On which applications or industries do you want to focus in the future? Where do you currently see prospective development potential?
Together with Helios Global Health, we would like to continue on the path "Provide access to care to everyone, everywhere and everytime", enter further international markets and make medical care accessible to as many people as possible. Our goal is to be present in at least twelve countries on four continents in the next few years. This results in a roadmap with great challenges and goals.
What potential do you see for Berlin as a business location? What are your plans for the future?
We deliberately chose Berlin as the company's headquarters, partly because of its proximity to Helios Global Health, but mainly because of the city's innovative potential. Berlin is home to numerous startups, a melting pot of innovative ideas. From here, we can think nationally and internationally about our vision of making healthcare accessible to everyone. The internationality and diversity of the city helps us to unite important aspects and, above all, people in our vision.