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Healthtech Stories highlights the unique and inspiring journeys of people driven to solve healthcare’s biggest problems through technology.
Peter Hames is cofounder and CEO of Big Health, a healthtech company that creates digital programmes to help those with mental health conditions. Not wanting to enter into the potentially vicious cycle of taking medications to help him sleep, Peter, a psychologist by background, was inspired and motivated to start the company when he saw the market lacked any evidence-based, non-drug solutions for his insomnia.
Unsurprisingly, Big Health’s first product is, therefore, Sleepio, which is a digital sleep improvement program delivered online or via their app. It gives users techniques from a treatment method called Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), which means that patients like Peter, who don’t want to take sedative medications, can receive an alternative, proven, evidence-based therapy. You also have the pleasure of working with a virtual, animated sleep expert called The Prof and his narcoleptic dog Pavlov who help you with the CBT techniques.
I reached out to Peter when I saw that Sleepio is now freely available to all 8 million people in London as part of the Good Thinking initiative:
Peter, tell me about yourself and how you came to found Big Health.
Big Health, or more specifically our first product Sleepio, was born out of my own experience with insomnia – an incredibly distressing experience. I’m fortunate enough to have a degree in Experimental Psychology, so I know there’s strong evidence behind non-drug therapies such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). But when I asked my doctor for a course of CBT, all he would give me was sleeping pills. Out of desperation I got my hands on a self-help book written by world sleep expert Prof. Colin Espie, and used it to self-administer a program of CBT. Although it was a very manual process, I was sleeping well after just a few weeks. That opened my eyes to the power of CBT, and how technology could (and should) be used to provide it to the millions in need. After a cold call and a train journey, the author of that book, Prof Colin Espie, became the Co-Founder of Big Health.
For those that don’t know, what is CBT?
CBT stands for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. It’s a talking therapy traditionally delivered by trained human therapists, through once-weekly sessions. Unlike most people’s mental image of psychotherapy, it’s a very practical, no-nonsense experience, focused on helping you to develop skills in order for you to become your own therapist. This is why it’s so impactful – you’re empowered with the skills and knowledge you need to stay healthy in the long term without the need for more treatment.
How big of a problem is insomnia?
Insomnia is not only quite common (research shows 20% of the working adult population has it) but it can lead to a range of other conditions including anxiety, depression and even diabetes. Simply put, sleep is foundational to our physical and mental wellbeing. When we don’t sleep enough, many aspects of our health suffer. From personal experience, I know that it’s a very overwhelming and lonely condition to deal with.
Sleepio’s UI and UX looks great. How much was design a focus in creating it?
Design has always been and remains a top priority at Big Health. With Sleepio, Prof. Espie was instrumental in helping us understand the patient experience which is a major tenant of our design philosophy. We focus on creating experiences that resonate with our users’ unique mental health challenges while hopefully delighting them along the way. We believe taking care of our own mental health shouldn’t feel like medicine.
I actually reference Sleepio a lot when I talk about sensible business models – going around the NHS to employers and consumers, generating revenue and evidence, then coming back. Are you a genius?
Ha! There’s no genius involved – it’s been a winding road to find our current model. We founded Big Health in the UK and we’re passionate supporters of the NHS – I truly believe it’s one of the wonders of the world. However, it’s also an enormous organization and change takes time, so a few years ago we decided to focus our energies on the US employer market whilst maintaining a presence in the UK and continuing our projects with the NHS. As a result, we’ve seen rapid growth in the US, which has given us the opportunity to prove our ability to deliver care at huge scale and collect increasing amounts of data on the effectiveness of our products. Meanwhile, I’m pleased to say that our belief in the NHS is being validated – now all 8 million Londoners and another 3 million people across Oxfordshire and surrounding regions have free access to Sleepio via the NHS.
For many healthtech startups, particularly digital therapeutics, generating evidence can be difficult. How easy was it for you to get evidence and how much do you have now compared to when you started?
It’s true that building an evidence base takes time, but we saw no other viable option in terms of establishing our credibility and, more importantly, trust with the people we strive to help. Our products are now backed by 33 peer-reviewed journal articles, including 8 randomized controlled trials (RCTs). A remarkable stat: these studies included over 12,000 participants, meaning more people have participated in controlled studies of Sleepio than in studies of any prescription insomnia medication on the market.
What’s next for Big Health?
Our purpose is to help millions back to good mental health, and that’s our guiding light. We recently announced the launch of Daylight, our new program for worry and anxiety. Daylight is a huge step forward for us in fulfilling our mission because we know that poor sleep, worry and anxiety are intimately related. We want our users to be able to start with whatever issue is impacting them the most.
Most of your users get access through their employer. What can non-covered folks do if they’re interested in trying Sleepio or Daylight?
If you’re not covered through your employer or through the NHS, we’re always looking for more volunteers to participate in our research studies. By signing up to participate, you get free access to our products in exchange for allowing our clinical researchers to study the way you used them and how much they helped. You can email email@example.com to learn more or sign up.
And finally, how do you stay motivated?
Working with a group of great people against a mission that matters – to help millions back to good mental health.
April 4, 2019 at 01:22PM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs