Author: Fiona Chow
In 2011, Greg Jarzabek was enjoying a high-powered banking career when he received the earth-shattering news that his mother had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer back in his native Poland.
His mission to find the right doctor and treatment saw him travel to Warsaw, London, Chicago, New York, Boston, Cologne and Frankfurt to consult with specialists, as well as liaising online with doctors in Turin, Helsinki and Tokyo. During this epic odyssey, Jarzabek experienced first-hand the challenges of navigating a complex and fragmented global cancer-care system. His efforts bought his mother 10 more months with her family when the initial diagnosis had predicted just three.
Fuelled by a sense of purpose and desire to help others in a similar situation, Jarzabek quit his job to build Trustedoctor, the first virtual platform linking cancer patients to world-leading specialists who want to give back. He was supported in this vision by his friend Lukasz Rzeczkowski and former housemate Phillippe Schucht, a neurosurgeon from University Hospital Bern and a specialist in rare brain tumours, respectively.
All three were convinced there should be a better way for cancer patients to find the very best cancer specialists and identify the optimum treatment for them.
Rzeczkowski said: “Unlike on other platforms, our specialists cannot pay to be listed. They are identified through their academic output, clinical excellence and peer recommendations, and that gives patients confidence that the doctors they are consulting are the best in their field. We select specialists alongside 15 global cancer charities and our Medical Advisory Board, which is itself made up of pre-eminent cancer specialists. We want inclusion on Trustedoctor to be a kitemark of quality in the medical profession.”
Jarzabek wants to offer
a borderless, virtual setting for medical treatment to any doctor or patient
While the initial offering is focused on brain cancer and has 28 specialists signed up, the platform plans to have an offering for 20 cancers with 500 world-leading specialists on board within two years.
Jarzabek is intent on keeping the “kitemark” approach for informing patients and connecting them to world’s leading specialists, but also wants to offer a borderless, virtual setting for medical treatment to any doctor or patient. Trustedoctor is already working with one NHS Trust in the UK to create a virtual platform for patient-doctor interactions and is in talks with a number of hospitals in Europe and the US to provide a similar service.
Jarzabek said: “Our experience with patients to date is that a cancer diagnosis often triggers a desire to find out as much as you can and have a sense of control that, too often, cancer takes away from you. Being able to inform yourself and find a doctor that has experience of your particular type of cancer can make all the difference.”
This was the experience of Kat Charles, a 35-year-old analyst from Buckinghamshire, UK, who is one of almost 60 patients to have trialled the beta version of Trustedoctor. In 2011, while travelling in Costa Rica, she suffered a seizure caused by a tumour. Charles, and her husband Jason, originally sought a second opinion to “confirm we were doing the right things, seeking the best treatment and working with the doctors we felt most confident in”.
Jason said: “When we came to Trustedoctor we wanted to cast a wider net for expertise and opinion and [the platform] provided a way to contact global specialists and innovators and gave us easy access to consultation without having to travel further than our living room.
“We spoke to two specialists in brain tumours; one in America and the other in Switzerland. Each gave us different insight and ideas to explore. The doctor in Switzerland put us onto a cutting edge experimental trial, which put us in contact with a UK radiologist, who gave us a number of clear options.
“We now have two further lines of treatment lined up and ready to go IF they are needed. We know the next step, before we need it.”
With interest in the platform building ahead of its official rollout this summer, Jarzabek and Rzeczkowski have divided roles and responsibilities between them, with Jarzabek focusing on attracting specialists and hospitals, while Rzeczkowski is identifying potential partners and investors. To date, 120 users, including patients, doctors and patient organisations, have been trialling the platform.
From an investment point of view, the platform operates a social revenue model. Consultation rates are set by the doctors themselves with a percentage of all revenue going directly to a social fund to benefit patients in need. A percentage is levied by Trustedoctor to support the platform and the rest goes to the consultant. All doctors have a choice to charge a patient or to conduct the consultation for free.
Trustedoctor’s mission to create a borderless platform and leverage the skills and experience of specialists who want to give back has huge ramifications for cancer treatment in the developing world too.
In Kenya, there are around 40,000 new cancer cases annually, yet only 22 cancer specialists across four public hospitals offering cancer patient care. When getting to the nearest town can involve several days travel, the barriers of time, distance and cost become even greater. The platform has been working with local partners like not-for-profit NGO Childhood Cancer Initiative to create a system to improve local access to care.
Joseph Omach, Administrative Director of the Childhood Cancer Initiative said: “Trustedoctor is bridging the gap in service provision for cancer patient-care worldwide… having access to world-leading neuro-oncologists at the click of a button has the potential to save lives and significantly improve patient outcomes in Kenya.”