Weight lifted by niche approach

| August 14, 2014

Business success doesn’t just happen overnight, it takes years of research, dedication and refinement. Luke Lawler, CEO of Prima Health Solutions shares his company’s approach in the area of weight and lifestyle related chronic disease management.

I have a background in the pharmaceutical industry, in particular experience with weight related conditions like diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Working in these medical circles it became apparent that with intensive and effective weight loss, patients can simultaneously improve numerous chronic disease risk factors including joint pain and function, blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, heart function, sleep apnoea, fertility and many other health areas where obesity plays a role.

From a pharmaceutical company perspective the allure of being able to achieve the weight loss needed to produce these medical outcomes was incredibly strong. The problem was that no individual pharmaceutical product could be developed to safely achieve the desired outcomes for widespread clinical use.

The opportunity that our company set out to pursue 10 years ago was to achieve medically significant weight loss in patients with existing weight related health problems. In order to do this we tried to identify the complex matrix of products, educational and behavioural modification resources, and patient engagement, monitoring and management services.

The cyclical product development process we followed was simple and effective and still underpins how we run the business today. Please see chart below:

One of the first steps in our research and development journey was to have our product used in independent clinical trials conducted by institutions such as the CSIRO, Royal Adelaide Hospital and Royal Prince Alfred Hospital. These studies gave us excellent clinical evidence demonstrating what was possible in tightly controlled specialist settings.
The challenge from there was two-fold; primarily to develop a scalable treatment protocol and IT system to wrap around the product to enable us to reproduce the same results in the ‘real world’.  We were also attempting to find an organisation that was willing to pay us to produce the clinical outcomes (the complexity and cost of the intervention would make it too difficult to have individual patients pay).

The breakthrough for us came via a “meeting of the minds” with a major health insurance company. They were facing rapidly increasing hospitalisation costs resulting from the complications associated with weight related chronic diseases and we were passionate about providing a solution to their problem.

For example, knee and hip replacement procedures and the associated rehabilitation therapies needed to treat the clinical condition of osteoarthritis, costs the private health insurance sector in the order of $1 billion each year. Our intensive non-surgical intervention was going to be effective for many people at a fraction of the cost.

As such this health fund was willing to share the risk by providing partial funding for us to run pilot programs to prove that the outcomes could be achieved in the “real world” and in turn they could help reduce their healthcare costs of high risk members.

Stage after stage we delivered outcomes across a number of different scenarios and disease states, as well as upscale the product effectively. Through each process it was important for our business to deliver on what we said we would. This helped build our profile and importantly our reputation with a growing number of clients; HCF, BUPA, Medibank Private and Teachers Health and other private health funds.

Our strategy has been to become an indispensable expert in an important area that isn’t being well addressed. By tackling one area incredibly well you can prove yourself and in turn that will broaden your opportunities.

In time we have developed more of a partnership rather than a traditional customer/provider relationship.

We have developed a completely new model that produces the right outcomes and delivers a good return on investment for our partners. A key factor in our success was that our product was scalable. We invested in the technology, quality systems and processes and as a result we knew our profits would be sustainable as we grew.

Having tackled the private health funds our next challenge is to work with federal and state governments who have a completely different approach.

Keys to building relationships with large clients
+ Understand clients business and their cost drivers
+ Develop a niche product to help them reduce their costs
+ Demonstrate that you understand their requirement for evidence and for a return on investment
+ Do your research and be tenacious
+ Always deliver on what you say you are going to
+ Have end game economies of scale in mind during the development process

Luke Lawler is the CEO, Scientific Director and co-founder of Prima Health Solutions. Since 2004 Prima Health has specialised in the research, development and ‘real world translation’ of obesity related chronic disease management programs. Prior to establishing Prima Health Luke held a range of senior medical management roles with an  international pharmaceutical company where he specialised in the development and implementation of obesity drug trials for high CVD risk patients and the subsequent translation of this knowledge into the Australian healthcare market. To date, seven independent research projects have been published in peer reviewed journals using Prima Health products that were developed to help treat obesity related conditions including atrial fibrillation, type 2 diabetes, male sexual function and lower urinary tract symptoms as well as infertility.