Ivan Lekushev is co-founder and CEO of the technology company BGO Software, which provides the organization's digital transformation in the healthcare sector in Europe, the UK, and the USA. In the last two months, BGO manages an office in Switzerland and is announcing fountain a new office in Bazel. The new workspace of the Bulgarian company is in Novartis's campus in the innovative park Basel Area - the centre for innovations in healthcare.
- In February- Mr Lekushev, BGO entered a new market and opened an office with a strategic location two months later. Why did you and your team choose Switzerland to grow the company?
- The government there takes healthcare and pharmacy seriously. There are established policies to promote innovation, centres for exchange of knowledge and ideas are created, individual businesses communicate united by the cause of the state in an open ecosystem. This environment provides an excellent opportunity for companies like BGO to reach people with different expertise and shared visions.
On the other hand, the state strictly follows its rules and requires patience to meet all its conditions. On the other hand, the established relationships are stable over time, and there are no unpleasant surprises. All this gives me the right to think that the Swiss market for digital healthcare solutions will grow at an ever-increasing rate. An additional impetus will come from the health crisis, which has exacerbated our need to deal with the past ineffective methods.
- Working with companies from the prestigious Fortune 500 Pharma ranking allows you to follow the development of global leaders in healthcare. What difficulties do they face on the path to excellence?
- The truth is that healthcare is a very conservative industry, and The Industry Digitization Index has begun to assign it the last places in its ranking tendentiously. If we compare it with the financial sector, there will be a massive gap between the results. The COVID-19 pandemic opened our eyes to all the changes we need to make. For example, access to health facilities is limited due to anti-epidemic measures, but we can contact our GP through technology without worrying about infection. If we had relied on telemedicine earlier, we would now be using a developed and familiar system for people. Accordingly, we would have gone through the crisis much easier and more effective to deal with the spread of the virus.
The extraordinary circumstances brought purely administrative relief. It takes between 7 and 10 years for a pill to come out of an idea through tests and to receive fertilizers. Much of this time is spent waiting to transfer documents from the company to the regulator and vice versa. Much of this process can be digitized, and the active digital communication is why COVID-19 vaccines are coming out so quickly. The political will of the organizations to reduce the administrative burden by filling in piles of paper gave results due to the needs of the population.
It is not logical in the 21st century to still use physical media, which can be easily damaged, and their proper replenishment is very difficult and time-consuming. This proves that we need digitalization and the use of more technical means to facilitate the processes in the sector and enable us to focus on prevention, treatment, innovation and science.
Some countries have already realized this, and the sector is doing much more accessible in this regard. For example, the United States had had an electronic file since 2004, when President George W. Bush ruled. In terms of the digital development of medicine, the United States is still a world leader today. Their market is more significant than those of the following four economies combined. In Europe, Germany performs very well thanks to government policies for the complete digitalization of health and government subsidies to support this process, both at the national level and at various levels of the sector.
The other countries will soon be left without a choice and will have to follow the example of the largest economy in the world and the country with the largest GDP in the European Union.
- What needs to happen for the accelerated COVID-19 vaccine path to become a formal drug launch practice?
- The optimization of the process is delayed for several reasons. First, companies have no incentive because the current system works. It happens slowly and clumsily, but the drugs still reach the patients and bring profits along the chain. Second, such an endeavour would mean building a completely new system that would cost a certain amount of financial and human resources. Here we are talking about a comfortable area. It will take a lot of motivation to get out of it. Humans do not fix something that works anyway, regardless of its effectiveness.
On the other hand, the illusion is created that they have a lot of time and digitalization can wait until next year, and when it comes, the project is transferred to the next. Thus, it can be decades before anything starts. Fortunately, the pandemic put an end to this delay and left opponents of digital medicine without argument.
- How has the digitalization of the health sector become a corporate cause for BGO, and why did you decide to work for it in partnership with the Bulgarian Cluster for Digital Solutions and Innovations in Healthcare (DHI)?
- For a long time, BGO worked as a company for outsourced services. Subsequently, we chose to specialize in a field to respond in depth to its needs. Looking at the clients we work with, and it was clear that our development is in digital healthcare. This process happened very naturally, as did the partnership with DHI. I have always believed that technology can save and improve the lives of millions of people.
The reason we became part of DHI is its mission. Without working together, we had mainly set the same goals, and that speaks for itself. The cluster brings together people with a clear awareness that technology can contribute to better health and improve the quality of human life. Maybe not everyone defines it this way, but I'm sure everyone can recognize this maxim. It is this way of thinking that is the generator of change.
- What does the market for digital solutions in healthcare in Bulgaria look like in your boldest forecasts?
- Bulgaria can become an IT hub with a digital healthcare profile, and my dream is for this to happen. Now the software industry is responsible for 3.3% of the country's gross domestic product, according to data for 2019 of the Bulgarian Association of Software Companies (BASCOM). However, without government policy, this indicator is doomed to melt in 2-3 years. We will soon not be competitive, because the salaries of our specialists are ahead of the opportunities of foreign companies for investment.
We compete with destinations such as Ukraine, Moldova, Romania, and Central and Eastern Europe, but we are doomed to lose the race if we do not change our approach. Let's imagine that Bulgaria's image is built on expertise in the field of digital healthcare. Then investors will recognize us with solutions in a growing industry, not with low prices and claims that we can solve the problems of any sector. In this way, we will increase the investment market significantly.
- Would the weak digitalization of the public sector be an obstacle on the way to the transformation of Bulgaria into a European Center for Digital Healthcare Solutions?
- The truth is that Bulgaria is very poorly digitized, and for us, digitalization would have many benefits. At the very least, corruption will decrease, with criticism in the European Commission's monitoring reports.
The process of digitalization is not easy, but I believe that Bulgarian companies can carry out the transformation, including encouraging the state to take action. BGO has built software for the ministries of other countries, and we are not the only Bulgarian company that receives more interest from foreign economies. In contrast, its government refuses the opportunity to be the first to implement digital solutions.
Many of our companies remain imprinted on the global stage. Sooner or later, our country will realize that it is time to catch up with the others. The good thing is that our companies will have gained experience in foreign markets and the process will be significantly faster.