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It has always been about being disruptive in a very conservative industry

Interview with Kristian Hart-Hansen

Kristian Hart-Hansen is the CEO of LEO Innovation Lab. Kristian spoke to us about patient happiness, the role of AI in relieving pressures on doctors, and the lessons he has learnt from being a leader.

It has always been about being disruptive in a very conservative industry, which has been extremely exciting

How does your role at LEO Innovation lab allow you to combine your passion for improving patients’ lives with your aptitude for digital solutions?   

I was asked to start up LEO Innovation Lab in 2015. At that time, I was the General Manager at LEO Pharma Spain, so I was living in Barcelona and I had restructured the organisation and digitalised it fully. I was then pulled back to start LEO Innovation Lab, which is an independent unit under LEO Pharma. As the CEO, I started it from scratch. At that time, it was only me, and today LEO Innovation Lab has around 80 people representing more than 20 nationalities, with offices in San Francisco, Copenhagen, Romania, Tel Aviv, and Shanghai. That has been quite a journey.

One of the challenges has been that when you treat patients with chronic skin conditions, you’re treating the symptoms rather than the underlying disease and patient as a whole. Focussing on the latter is far more impactful on the patient’s mental and physical health. This is not something that was looked at in the way it should be. For me, it has always been about being disruptive in a very conservative industry, which has been extremely exciting.

What more needs to be done to increase the awareness of the mental health implications that can accompany skin conditions?  

We need to acknowledge the full impact of living with a skin condition, and even more so with chronic diseases. At LEO Innovation Lab we created PsoHappy, a health and happiness research study using the World Happiness Index and specific questions about psoriasis, to globally map the impact of this disease on mental wellbeing. We compared the happiness of patients with psoriasis to the normal population. Our results showed that people with psoriasis report up to 30% lower levels of happiness. Lower happiness means lower quality of life, which means a higher risk of developing mental disorders, such as depression and anxiety, and other health issues. This puts additional pressure on the healthcare system. The study also showed higher happiness levels among people who felt their doctor understood how psoriasis impacted their mental wellbeing compared to when the doctor just prescribed a treatment.

We established The Health & Happiness Foundation where we donated all our findings and this work. Being owned by a pharmaceutical company would not be the right approach. We needed to expand the scope and look at other chronic diseases to fully understand the impact on society, and how we can address happiness inequalities to improve the way we design and deliver healthcare. That is why we developed this independent foundation; now they are running completely independently.

You have to adapt to the new generations, and when you do, you get so much passion, engagement, and purposefulness

How important it is to ensure that AI works hand-in-hand with doctors, rather than seeming to replace them?  

For me this is crucial. WHO has estimated that by 2035 we will be lacking 12.9 million healthcare workers. We are also getting older and living with more chronic diseases which puts another stress on the healthcare system. The whole system will break at some point unless we start treating less, which is not an option, or we try to find other ways of supporting doctors. The only way you can do this is by introducing technologies. AI has huge potential: you can develop tools for people wanting to take care of their own health or give the technology to GPs to help them better diagnose.

GPs misdiagnose dermatological conditions in up to 50% of cases because they aren’t as experienced in dealing with these conditions and don’t have enough time to spend with each patient. This is not satisfying for the patient or for the doctor. GPs are our most important line of defence in the healthcare system because they can detect what is going on very early on – but they simply do not have time for that. If you give GPs and dermatologists the tools to better diagnose, you can remove a lot of people on waiting lists and free up resources for those who really need it.

How can technology be utilised to relieve the growing pressures placed on doctors?  

To relieve pressure on the healthcare system, we are looking at implementing AI into the future patient journey: when you have a skin condition, you go to the internet, download an app, and take a photo to get your diagnosis and best treatment option. These recommendations will be based on real-life data from thousands of other patients. You order your treatment, and 2 hours later it lands on your doorstep. In many cases, you don’t need to see a doctor because it’s all done through your smartphone. We envision this could handle up to 60% of chronic skin diseases, while 20–30% would require patients to take a photo and send it to a doctor, and just 10–20%, in cases of severe or rare diseases, would need to physically see a doctor.

There are tools that can diagnose with >84% accuracy: 92% for psoriasis and 84% for eczema. But, regulatory wise, you are not allowed to diagnose if you are not a doctor. So, work is being done to develop these tools and aiming to make them available to GPs and dermatologists to help them diagnose more accurately, while simultaneously training our model, so that when circumstances change, we can give it to the end user. LEO Innovation Lab has its own online hospital of board-certified dermatologists who are looking at and labelling skin images to optimise the AI.

As a leader in the healthcare industry, how important is it to surround yourself with a team of people who inspire you and share your focus on patient needs? 

This is essential. I have been fortunate to always have good employees and leaders; but, as annoying as millennials and generation Z can be to manage, they are also so inspiring. They are passionate and purpose-driven in a way that puts a lot of pressure on you as a manager to constantly be on their level. It is a gift for any organisation to have more of these individuals. I have worked a lot with patient organisations, but I tend to be hesitant about using patients from them because they are ‘professional patients’ – patients who have reflected upon and have a better understanding of their disease. We want to reach those who struggle with and don’t talk about their disease. Both the employees and patients I have worked with are amazing.

What are some of the most important leadership lessons you have learnt as CEO?  

Being a CEO is damn complicated sometimes! But it is also super interesting; you have to adapt to the new generations, and when you do, you get so much passion, engagement, and purposefulness that you don’t see normally. To be a manager and lead an organisation like LEO Innovation Lab, I had to give much more of myself as a person, compared to leading a normal corporate organisation. It is so inspiring. One lesson I have learnt is that you will make a ton of mistakes, constantly. It’s a matter of trying to accept that mistakes are a part of life and adapting and learning from them. At LEO Innovation Lab, we celebrate with champagne whenever we make mistakes so that people know it is okay. Also, there is no wall of fame - but instead a wall of failure where we display all the big projects we have been working on that failed. That is something I treasure a lot. They’ve taught

us valuable lessons and helped bring us to where we are today.

We celebrate with champagne whenever we make mistakes so that people know it is okay
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