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Why businesses need to evolve in the face of challenges: 4 key lessons from CancerAid


Back in 2016 when Australians were first introduced to CancerAid, our startup was already on a fast trajectory towards success after quickly becoming the number 1 ranked cancer app on the app store.

High engagement and retention followed by hundreds of positive testimonials from patients meant we showed steady growth. Then in 2017 CancerAid was catapulted into the spotlight thanks to our appearance on Shark Tank. This appearance resulted in a generous investment of $500.000, thousands of downloads of the app, expansion into the US and time in the media spotlight.

Yet however bright the future looked for CancerAid, one challenge remained – the concept of self-management via our app was new to many patients. This meant we had to make some changes or risk an unsteady future. CancerAid’s evolution from App to Coach taught us some key insights along the way.

Do your research and learn to pivot

Whilst level one evidence suggests that our business model made sense, the majority of patients, care coordinators and health professionals alike were yet to fully understand the rationale as to why they should log symptoms on the app.

Research shows that overall survival, wellbeing and outcomes can be improved with the help of electronic patient-reported symptom tracking and monitoring, however this wasn’t translating for our users. This challenge was identified in our hospital pilot that showed that patient education and behavioural change was needed to ensure they engage with their care and use the app efficiently.

Without patients using the app to its full potential, the viability and growth of CancerAid was threatened. We were seeing users download and engage on the app, however there were many who were not fully engaged with all the functionalities – thus hindering their own chance of recovery.

A patient’s return to wellness was the reason we started CancerAid in the first place, so we had to look at ways to fix it. Alas, CancerAid Coach was born. 

Evolve your business model

After working tirelessly to build the success of our app, making changes to our model was a hard pill to swallow. However, we recognised the need for evolution and designed CancerAid Coach to run in conjunction with CancerAid’s app.

CancerAid Coach is a six-week program based on the concept of participatory health, aiming to educate and empower patients to actively participate in decisions around their health management, thereby driving improved clinical outcomes.

We designed this program based on the research that shows that cancer patients have better health outcomes if they are more engaged with their own care. It is a digitally delivered program that assigns a dedicated human health coach and evidence-based education.

Launching our Coach Program meant we were able to enhance our current offering and align to studies that have found coaching to be a far more successful intervention to foster digital patient self-management in comparison to push notifications and automated messages. 

Use these changes as an opportunity for growth

CancerAid Coach opened up some opportunities for growth for our business in the B2B space. Whilst the CancerAid app and program will always be free to patients, the CancerAid Coach Program gave us a viable future. Thanks to our Coach Program, we are now working with Life Science, Employers and have partnered with the top 3 of the 6 top life insurers in Australia.

The program already boasts an impressive success rate in improving return-to-wellness and work with a demonstrated 750% ROI (in reduced claims costs) whilst maintaining an NPS of 81 and CSAT score of 96. In its first year, hundreds of patients that graduated the program gave it high satisfaction scores, namely 97% of participants expressed that they would recommend the CancerAid Coach Program to a friend. These success metrics taught us a valuable lesson in business – changes can lead to positive outcomes. 

Place an emphasis on communication

Despite the success that CancerAid’s Coach Program has achieved so far, it hasn’t been without its own challenges. Working on a B2B model unfortunately meant patients assumed CancerAid were now selling their data to other companies, which couldn’t be further from the truth.

However, we initially failed to recognise that these assumptions could be made and therefore should have placed an emphasis on effective communication. The work we’ve been doing with B2B partners is predominantly with insurers around improving return to wellness and work for patients on an income protection policy.

We’re also working with pharmaceutical companies who are looking to further support patients on their medications with each partnership we can ensure that we can continue to deliver these programs 100% free to patients. Patients are, and always will be, our number one priority so protecting their data and privacy is paramount for us. We will never sell their information or jeopardise the security and privacy of our users and program participants.

Our B2B model simply means that we can continue to make the app and program free to them. It is incredibly important that our patients are aware of this and we are continually working on ensuring this message gets through.

This has been another valuable lesson in our journey – never assume your customers will know your intentions behind any changes. Communicate what you’re doing and why, before you do implement any modifications to your business model. This will allow you to pre-empt any issues that could arise and be proactive in stopping them.

Dr Raghav Murali-Ganesh is a co-founder and CEO of CancerAid.

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