Richard Cooke, founder of Hy-genie, on starting a digital health startup

NHS veteran and healthcare innovator by day, cycle mechanic and charity volunteer by night; it’s safe to say, Richard Cooke is a fairly extraordinary entrepreneur. Recently retired from his position as the ‘Director of Infection Prevention & Control’ at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital, Richard is revolutionising hand hygiene compliance across the healthcare system with his tech startup Hy-genie.

Hy-Genie and minimising the risk of hospital-acquired infections

“Throughout my career, I’ve been passionate about minimising the risk of hospital-acquired infections.”

Whilst working at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in Liverpool, Richard was responsible for reducing the risk of hospital-acquired infection. “Throughout my career, I’ve been passionate about minimising the risk of patients developing hospital-acquired infections”, he explains. “A cornerstone to good infection prevention is 100% hand hygiene compliance for all staff, but this is surprisingly difficult to achieve”. On a mission to improve hand hygiene compliance in hospitals across the UK, Richard teamed up with Nova to create what is now known as Hy-genie.

“Hy-genie is a passive monitoring system that allows hospitals to continuously detect usage of hand hygiene stations. The platform provides real-time insight into hand hygiene behaviour, ultimately helping to improve compliance in hospitals”, explains Richard. Although the system aims to significantly improve the risk of patients developing hospital-acquired infections, bringing Hy-genie to life still required support from within the NHS. “Most people are surprised to hear that hand hygiene compliance is actually quite poor in hospitals worldwide, so I had to gather support from within the NHS to move my ideas forward”, Richard recalls. “This resulted in establishing a clinical user group of over 30 people to obtain regular feedback as our business progressed”.

NHS and Nova

“The NHS has a lot to learn from Nova’s approach to digital health innovation… I particularly liked the focus my startup team had on putting clinical staff at the heart of our work.”

With both Richard and Nova’s startup team busy working on product development, Hy-genie is well on it’s way to making a difference in healthcare. “We’re currently developing the Hy-genie system which will help hospitals automatically monitor hand hygiene 24/7”, Richard explains. “Once it’s ready, the product will undergo clinical evaluation in a number of hospitals and NHS trusts.”

And Richard’s plans don’t stop there. “If all goes well, we’ll be able to establish that improved hand hygiene compliance can be linked to a reduction in hospital-acquired infections and therefore associated costs. Hopefully, the system can then be rolled out across the NHS and further afield.”

Poor hand hygiene in clinical settings is a historic problem, and to date, it has been tried to be solved at an operational level, like adding more sanitation units. Being able to utilise technology to provide accurate measurement data, and reinforce positive hand sanitisation behaviour, via Hy-genie, is a great example of digital progression in healthcare. “The NHS has a lot to learn from Nova’s approach to digital health innovation”, says Richard. “I particularly liked the focus my tech startup team had on putting clinical staff who actually use a hand hygiene system at the heart of our work, as well as getting their feedback to test and iterate on what we have created”.

Do you have a great idea?

If you have a great idea for a tech product or system that could improve the health industry, you can apply for Nova’s free digital health startup programme here.

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