The power of grassroots communities to transform health & social care

I hired the function room in this London pub for the first two events I ran! 

I hired the function room in this London pub for the first two events I ran! 

Just over 2 years ago, as a volunteer, I founded the Health 2.0 London Chapter, which has since grown to over 630 members and has become the largest health tech grassroots community in the UK. I'm going to share why I did this, the experience & the impact on health & social care in the UK. 



The need for diverse grassroots communities

I've wrote in my first ever blog post about how starting the Health 2.0 London Chapter was part of me venturing out from GSK into the unknown. I observed that events in healthcare were often very expensive to attend & either focused on the tech, or the clinical aspects, the NHS, or investment opportunities. Nothing wrong with that, but there wasn't one space where all those groups could come together, with a genuine focus on the patient. I've always enjoyed bringing diverse groups of people together, whether it's at work or outside. At the end of my recent trip to Boston in the USA, I hosted a 'mindful' dinner for 10 amazing people that didn't know one another, some of whom I'd never met, but had formed friendships on Twitter. 

Back to Health 2.0 London, the turning point was the event I ran in Nov 2012 on 'Disruptive Innovation in Clinical Trials'. I decided I wanted to try having a real patient start the event, by sharing their experience of participating in a clinical trial. We had the wonderful Jeri Burtchell, a patient from the USA share her story in a Skype video call, displayed on the big screen in the venue.  

During the Q&A after her talk, I witnessed men & women from the audience coming up to my laptop, and giving feedback to Jeri via the webcam, with tears in their eyes. Yes, Jeri's stories of her experience of clinical trials as a patient was something many in the audience had never heard, despite many of them working in the field of clinical trials. Her fears, her concerns, & her hopes for the future, shared with a group of strangers in London. We then had an industry expert speak, followed by a startup. 

After the 3 talks finished, what was magical was witnessing the new conversations between people who might normally never meet. A mobile app developer, an academic & a clinical trials expert, exchanging ideas on how they might work together to improve the patient experience during a clinical trial. It was incredibly rewarding to witness this unique energy at an event I'd curated. Don't take my word for it, you can read the reviews of the Chapter by attendees here.

I curated and ran 20 Chapter meetings since I founded the Chapter, with the help of Mateusz Tylicki, my assistant organiser. A wide range of events, with just a few memorable events listed below;

Information Obesity: A possible side effect of Digital Health?

Care Homes: How can data & technology impact the lives of vulnerable patients?

Digital Health in UK hospitals: Hope or Hype? 

You can't do it alone!

I'm fiercely independent, and don't like to rely upon anyone, but I learnt that you have to be humble enough to ask for help. Special thanks to Mateusz Tylicki who helped me with every event, and each of the speakers who shared their time, expertise & insights (for free) with the Chapter. Ultimately, it was the people who coped with travels through London rush hour to attend our events on Wednesday evenings, that helped build a healthy and vibrant community.  In the beginning, as the community grew, I couldn't continue to hold the meetings above a pub in London, I needed a proper venue. Dawson King, a UK healthcare entrepreneur was our first sponsor, and helped us when we needed it the most.

Most recently, it was David Dowe at the ICT Knowledge Transfer Network (itself funded by the Technology Strategy Board), who approached me back in 2012 and offered to support the Chapter by providing a venue & food/drinks for nearly every event since Nov 2012. 

I believe there are now over 70 Health 2.0 Chapters around the globe, and I got to know other Chapter Leaders such as Eugene Borukhovich (Amsterdam), Sebastian Yuen (Birmingham, UK), Alex Fair (New York), Liam Ryan (Dublin), Ben Heubl (Copenhagen), Juliane Zielonka (Berlin) & Idalia Dawidowska (Manchester, UK). Each of them inspired me to keep pushing the boundaries!

Finally, a big thanks to Matthew Holt, Indu Subaiya & Pascal Lardier from Health 2.0 for their support along the way! 

What else helped build this community?

  • Having small meetings with a clear focus. I attended many tech meetups in London, some of which had up to 200 people attend. I wanted to create something different with Health 2.0 London, a more intimate dialogue, where it's possible to talk to everyone during the course of the evening. That's why I capped attendance at 40-45 people each time. 
  • Placing filters on who can join the Chapter. The Chapter was managed via, and anyone wishing to join the Chapter had to answer a few questions when applying to join the group, and I would review each application personally. With experience, I learnt how to spot applications from those people genuinely interested in being part of this grassroots community. 
  • Not charging for attendance. I never once charged people to attend. My desire was to give everyone a chance to participate in this community, especially students, & others with limited finances.  

So, what was the impact on UK health & social care? 

Enough about me, how did people benefit from being part of the Chapter? I've included a few quotes below. 

"The ICTKN was delighted to support the growth of Health 2.0 London. When I first met Maneesh, I could see that he really understood the need for a new community in this area, and was prepared to put the hard work into finding speakers and building interest, so we were really happy to support his efforts. 

We’re very glad that its turned out to be such a success - its vital that this community continues to meet, to understand the opportunities which Digital Health presents and to continue to challenge accepted wisdom in health” - David Dowe, ICTKTN

"The meetings have been stimulating – brain food. I’ve met interesting people, useful contacts and seen new opportunities for research, including a letter of support from Maneesh for a PhD programme in Digital Health. Maneesh has been a visionary Chapter leader, constantly challenging accepted paradigms and raising thought-provoking topics for discussion." - Dr. Jacky Pallas, Director, UCL Research Platforms

Bruce Hellman

Bruce Hellman

"It's an incredibly exciting time to be a Digital Health start-up, with a massively growing market and a hugely supportive and encouraging ecosystem developing.  Fora such as the London Health 2.0 meetup group have really crystallised the ecosystem and network, and presenting has certainly helped us develop new relationships and gather new insights." - Bruce Hellman, co-founder & CEO, uMotif






The future of Health 2.0 London 

It's been extremely rewarding, but it's taken a lot of effort to get to this point. I put my heart & soul into everything that I do, whether I'm being paid or volunteering. 

Cristina de Juan

Cristina de Juan

Now that I'm becoming a lot busier with my own consultancy work in Digital Health, I recently stepped down as Chapter Leader. It's also good to give new people to bring fresh leadership to the community. 

There are two new Chapter Leaders, Mateusz Tylicki & Cristina de Juan, and I have every confidence they will do a fantastic job taking this community to the next level. 

"I'm very excited about the opportunity to take the Health 2.0 London Chapter forward. My aim in this role is to bring healthcare innovators together to ensure the UK is a leading country in Digital Health, with the ultimate of goal of helping patients." - Cristina de Juan, VP Clinical Partnerships, TrialReach 

Cristina & Mat did a sterling job at their first event last week which questioned the true impact of giving patients more data! 

In a brilliant Wired UK article, Ben Heubl, observes that Boris Johnson [Mayor of London] recently launched MedCity, an initiative to build the world's most powerful life sciences cluster, which appears to neglect the emerging Digital Health sector in London.

Could this gap in official support be an opportunity for a grassroots community like Health 2.0 London? I'm convinced through first hand experience that grassroots communities can make a difference in health & social care. It doesn't have to be technology that is the main focus, it's simply about bringing people together, discussing real world problems and creating a safe environment where people can express themselves & share (often radical) ideas without fear of being judged. 

What's next for me? 

During my visit to Boston, a reminder in a restaurant of the perception that there are differences between the 'Old World' & the 'New World'

During my visit to Boston, a reminder in a restaurant of the perception that there are differences between the 'Old World' & the 'New World'

As an entrepreneur, it's fun to experiment and try new things. I'm increasingly finding that clients are approaching me with particular problems because they view me as the bridge between the 'old world' of healthcare, and the 'new world' of Digital Health.

I recently spent a week in Boston, USA [which London's MedCity is aiming to compete with], and found it a very enlightening visit.

I met one Digital Health entrepreneur there, who remarked, "London?! Don't you feel limited there? In Boston, we believe that anything is possible."

Indeed, there still seems to an 'Old World' mindset in Europe that seems to lead to less risk taking, but it's changing.

My mind is very restless, and comes up with new ideas all the time! As someone with a data background, I'm becoming increasingly curious about how Open Data could make an even bigger difference in healthcare & social care. 

I'm delighted to be part of a panel discussion in London on April 30th 2014, 'Facilitating Innovation with Open Health Data', hosted by the Connected Digital Economy Catapult.

It's free to attend, and whilst primarily aimed at SMEs and Digital Health startups, anyone with an interest in Open Data & the Digital Economy should definitely consider attending. I'm hoping the event & subsequent discussions will help stimulate new ideas, new startups & new solutions that can ultimately help patients and remind us that the 'Old World' can still generate world class innovations. 

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