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  1. Wealth
March 30, 2010

For the Im-Patient

By Spear's

Your health deserves a hurry Penelope Bennett finds that Viavi does not just offer the Rolls-Royce of healthcare but does it in a trice

Your health deserves a hurry — Penelope Bennett finds that Viavi does not just offer the Rolls-Royce of healthcare but does it in a trice
ON A SCALE of one to ten, one being unnecessary and ten being vital to one’s existence, a Senior Armageddon Avoidance Engineer (as employed at Apple) deserves a four at most; it’s not as if he can single-handedly stop global warming or rogue nuclear states.

Many things exist nowadays that needn’t (chocolate fountains, edible post-it notes, hand luggage for children, car alarms) and plenty exist that should (inedible post-it notes, guide dogs, the snooze button). What we need is obviously more of the latter: more of what we need, rather than what might be impulsively purchased as novelty gifts.
The new doesn’t have to break barriers, just serve a tremendous purpose. It should, as a rule, have us questioning why it wasn’t thought of sooner.

Surgery checklists, as reported in the New Scientist, are one such vital introduction. On the one hand they act ‘to remind everyone of the dumb stuff’; on the other they have detected and effectively dealt with problems week in, week out since they came into use two years ago, thereby lowering death rates and reducing major complications in hundreds of cases. Simple, but mighty. That’s one.

Viavi, launched late last year, is another. Very broadly speaking it’s a health-management service that looks upon a patient’s case as a ship, and sets about acting as captain to said ship.

It operates on three levels, any one of which you can sign up to. Where the year-long Health Optimisation programme is concerned, general health advice is shunned in favour of a seriously bespoke health assessment tailored to your constitution and genetic predisposition to health issues.

The Health Advocacy service, meanwhile, comprises ongoing management of your health (consider them your advocate, as it says on the box) and includes support and guidance through what Viavi terms ‘the medical labyrinth’ — useful to those of you who feel you’re being sent from pillar to post seeing one specialist after another, with no single professional looking at the totality: you.

Lastly, their Health Concierge is what, or rather who, you’ll contact for fast referral to the best medical expert relevant to your case, or location, or both.

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Viavi (from the Latin ‘via’ [way] and French ‘vie’ [life]) sounds very simple, and in essence it is. Yet you would be hard pressed to find anything to match it elsewhere in the UK, or the world. Devotees of the Mayo Clinic or select private London hospitals may purport to receiving very bespoke healthcare at these and other centres, but the latter differ from Viavi on two fundamental grounds: 1) they aren’t always fully independent, ie they may benefit financially from referring you to specialist A or practitioner B, and often are tied to doing so even if they don’t think A and B are the best for your case; 2) they tend to assess you in accordance with your type — ie male, 40 to 50 — and lumber you with risk factors associated with your type rather than assessing you, a unique individual.
TRYING TO ESTABLISH a service like Viavi that can afford to stock the lower ground floor of the Harley Street building it occupies with expensive equipment like MRI scanners, ultrasound and x-ray machines yet regularly sees only one patient a day and has the time spend two hours searching for the best consultant for you without getting a referral fee for its troubles will, certainly, have scared off a good deal of well-meaning hopefuls. Running a service this exclusive and steering it to success is a challenge, then, but it’s one Dr Sabine Donnai, founder and CEO of Viavi, is only too delighted and determined to take on.

Previously medical director of Nuffield Health Wellbeing and a regional clinical director of Bupa, this Belgium-born physician left Nuffield in August 2007 because, as she puts it, ‘It was just time to start thinking about what we really enjoyed and what has frustrated us within preventative healthcare and medicine throughout our career.’

By ‘we’ she means herself and Oliver Patrick, a leading physiologist and Viavi’s executive director, whom she met at Prestige Health, a City healthcare provider tailoring healthcare solutions to City firms. The pair cemented their working relationship at Prestige, which they went on to rebrand, sell and eventually turn into Nuffield Health Wellbeing.

They speak of the ‘struggle’ they no longer wanted to contend with (that of answering to shareholders and being dependent on a greater parent network), statistical probability (obsolete, and frustratingly so when you consider how some get away with smoking into their eighties and live until their nineties while others aged 32 get lung cancer from passive smoking), and assorted ‘limitations’ they’re excited not to have at Viavi.

‘We’re passionate about giving somebody the absolute right thing for them,’ says Donnai, who manages to get a profound message across with the executive delivery of a board-level director. Worth noting is the fact that she and Patrick own the majority of Viavi (Quintessentially, the global luxury lifestyle group, is both a shareholder and key partner).

They are in the driver’s seat in every respect — from commercial strategy to patient care — and not at the mercy of numerous shareholders’ whims. ‘We don’t want to be any other way,’ says Donnai. ‘We can do what we like and adhere to the ethics that we’re really proud of.’

From getting a patient’s various practitioners and specialists to confer for the benefit of that one patient, to matching a patient with the right consultant, ‘right’ as much for their clinical expertise as for their personality; from getting someone ‘back to normal’ — a patient’s definition of back to normal, not just a doctor’s — to refusing to plough through consultations in 20-minute rotations; from offering patients complete privacy, to calling the doctor of one in Namibia or the chef of another if the need arises; from helping one man hide his agony from his children and thereby maintain his dignity, to chauffeuring a patient to and back from a test that called for a particular machine (one that can’t be moved): all these Viavi offers. Donnai and Patrick are clear about this: they want, and will take great pains to, tend to a patient’s every single health need.

I ask Donnai to simplify the Viavi ethos. The way she sees it, health is a game of cards played without looking at one’s hand. ‘A game,’ she stresses. ‘You don’t know if you’ll play your cards right, it’s just pure luck. What we’re doing with healthcare is trying to make you look at your hand. It’s still a risk — we cannot guarantee you won’t get a, b or c: you’re still playing a game of cards. But your chances of winning are a lot higher if you look at your hand.’

Such is the angle she and Patrick have been coming at health from since their days at Prestige. Contrary to what they teach you in medical school, which is to spot a symptom, match the symptom with a diagnosis and treat the diagnosis, theirs was a prevention-led practice, where signs of disease were tracked, negative behaviour
compounding the problem changed, and the disease — cancer, heart attack or other — prevented from ever
THE TRICK NOW with Viavi is to get all the tests, scans and consultations done in record time — ‘half the problem with health is the anxiety around it,’ says Donnai of drawn-out waiting times — which they do by having a lot of what they need already on site and calling in what they don’t on a case-by-case basis.

When you first consult the Viavi team you will, as with any consultation, be asked what is troubling you. Thereafter, the typical and formulaic goes out the window. If it’s a particular blood test you need done, a specific machine you need to be measured with or several scans you need performed and compared, it will be done and results obtained at exemplary speed. Likewise if there’s a specialist you need to be referred to, they’ll know or find the best for you, no strings attached.

There is no time in a Viavi patient’s diary to come in for countless consultations and test results and so, consequently, Viavi is hooked on speed. If all a patient has is half an hour a week to devote to his or her health, then Viavi will maximise that time. ‘We want what is going to get a patient the biggest return on their investment,’ says Donnai.

They will not, on principle, test for the sake of testing. Not only do they think it wastes a patient’s time, they consider it bad practice: it’s about strategic, not blanket, use. They would also never test for something they cannot influence.
‘What’s the point?’ says Donnai. ‘You’re just leaving someone with a massive problem or anxiety.’

But surely knowing is better than not? ‘If you do a whole body scan you could identify a brain aneurism [a blood vessel that has blown up]. There’s often nothing you can do about it — you have to live with the knowledge that one day it might pop. And that might happen when your blood pressure goes up, so we have to give advice like “don’t get stressed, excited, have sex or exercise, because anything that raises your blood pressure a bit might pop it”.’

A blood test that exposes someone’s increased risk of heart disease is another matter, however. ‘We can still influence whether they will eventually get a heart attack or not. So we can still help,’ she says. ‘Which is different from just screening blindly.

‘It’s not about us trying to find everything we can: it’s about us trying to help somebody generally get the most out of their lives, which is as much avoiding illness — and dealing with it quickly — as giving them as much energy and enjoyment out of life as possible. It can get quite complicated, but the complicated bit is for us. The client gets the simple solution.’

Donnai doesn’t hide the fact that Viavi is ‘for those who can afford it’. And why should she? All this attention to detail, speed and efficiency is something vital, and moreover beneficial, to a significant number of individuals. ‘We would love to deliver healthcare to a wider audience,’ adds Patrick. ‘But obviously when you raise the cost you can start to deliver the standard care that you really want.’

And which we really need. We should be jumping for joy that such bespoke — truly bespoke — health management can be obtained at all. And thrilled that here is an arrival finally worthy of a ten in the vital-stakes.

The Viavi way
Health Optimisation: £7,500/year
Health Advocacy: £1,000/month, excl. £500 initial consultation

For more details:
T +44 (0)20 70792151

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