“I was never the artsy type,” Johannes Allesch says in his friendly but matter-of-fact voice. However, his hobby – 3D animation – led him to sign up for the MultiMediaArt program at Salzburg’s University of Applied Sciences (FH Salzburg). “A very artsy degree,” he says, adding “It was never really my thing. I had always been interested in medicine.” But when the Salzburg-native started studying in 2004, med-school entrance exams were being instituted. Afraid of failing the exam like all his friends (“who are now all doctors, by the way,” he laughs) had, and already being accepted at the FH, he decided to remain there. Little did he know at the time that he would eventually combine his two passions – medicine and 3D animation – into one career.
So I thought to myself: There has got to be a better way!
The impetus for doing so resulted from misfortune, however. In 2006, Allesch’s girlfriend was involved in a traffic accident, which resulted in their spending a lot of time in hospitals. “Although her doctor took a lot of time to explain to us what would happen in the different surgeries, we ended up leaving the hospital with a stack of papers with drawings of matchstick men on them, but without knowing what would actually happen [in the surgery],” Allesch tells inventures. “So I thought to myself: There has got to be a better way!”
And there was.
Soon after, Allesch completed an internship in New York, where he learned how to digitally animate medical content. He decided to write his master’s thesis on patient information by creating a film that visualised vascular surgeries. “My supervisor, Professor Hölzenbein, was so interested in the project that he encouraged me to pursue it,” Allesch recalls.
Value added for patients and doctors
Innovative tools helping patients understand their procedures better. Photo credit: AniMedical
“From there, the idea to found a startup grew organically,” explains Allesch, who aimed to develop innovative tools and applications that would help hospital patients understand their surgical or treatment procedures better, as well as possible risks and side effects. “Conventional patient-consent sheets are usually formulated in a highly scientific way, which makes them difficult for a lot of people to understand without prior knowledge of anatomy,” the young founder says. His films would provide added value by visualising difficult medical procedures, allowing patients to more easily understand and cope.
In June 2010, Allesch and his project “AniMedical” were accepted into the Business Creation Center Salzburg founders’ programme (an AplusB incubator), where they remained active until December 2011. Since the official founding of AniMedical – medizinische Animationen KG” by Allesch and Hölzenbein in October 2010, the startup has focused on two kinds of products: information movies licensed to hospitals and doctors for the purpose of patient information, and conventional project work. “The pricing depends very much on the surgery, the treatment, the product package and the number of beds in a clinic,” Allesch explains. The movies are available in various languages, including German, English, Turkish and Serbo-Croatian.
Step one: Storyboards and Films
But show me a young entrepreneur whose business plan looks exactly the same a year after he started…Allesch on the challenges of startup life
The process of producing such an info-film is quite time-consuming, as it involves extensive consultation with doctors, who give feedback and provide input for the development of a storyboard outlining each scene. The films produced by Allesch and his team are then pre-installed on mobile tablets or formatted for use on other video hardware. “We focus on the most common surgeries,” Allesch says. “We started with urology. With six to ten films we can cover 95% of the daily service spectrum in this field.”
Positioning the startup as a specialised provider for medical 3D animations, AniMedical targets hospitals first and foremost, but has found an attractive partner in the pharma industry, as well. While hospitals use AniMedical movies as a way of informing their patients about a particular procedure, pharma businesses tend to order AniMedical films to visualise and present their products.
The perils of being a hybrid
A human heart, animated by the company. Photo credit: AniMedical
“We’ve been self-sustaining,” Allesch says, referring to the project work for the pharma industry and other clients that has helped the business to stay afloat despite a lack of funding. Ever since leaving the AplusB incubator at the end of 2011, AniMedical has received neither funding nor investment from business angels. Being a hybrid business, AniMedical has found it difficult to procure grants. “For AWS grants, we are not technical enough and for more medicine-focused funding, we are not medical enough,” Allesch says. Additionally, the market for medical devices is very difficult to predict. Therefore, one of the major challenges for AniMedical has been to “find a consistency in the flow of business,” he says. “But show me a young entrepreneur whose business plan looks exactly the same a year after he started.”
Step two: An app
- October 2010 AniMedical officially founded
- December 2010 Winner of the Salzburg Business Prize, Best Businessplan Category
- January 2011 Release of first 3D patient-education movie
- March 2012 First version of AniMedes goes into clinical testing
- Fall 2013 AniMedes is available on any Windows and iOS devices
- November 2013 Studies of AniMedes and its effects begin in multiple clinics
- November 2014 Winner of European Youth Award, Healthy Life/Healthcare category
As a next step towards a complete digitalisation of patient information, AniMedical has started developing an app called “AniMedes” that logs the entire process of preoperative patient information. For each step in the process, the app records all information given to patients, thus providing legal documentation and simplifying administration. Besides providing risk sheets and an alarm function for risk factors, the app also includes commentary and documentation functions for all entered data and allows patients to select prepared questions or ask their own. The patient’s signature consenting to treatment can be made directly on the tablet.
The app is currently in beta-phase and is being tested in selected clinics, where the feedback has been very positive, according to Allesch. However, for legal reasons, doctors still make printouts of consent sheets for patients’ signatures. According to a report by medical law expert Dr Monika Ploier, however, AniMedical’s app “can fully replace printdocumentation and may even be able to improve on it.”
The hardest, most interesting thing
In the future, Allesch, Hölzenbein and their team – comprised of around 35 freelancers and employees of their film-production partner, vielgesundheit.at – hope that the app will “create more safety in the patient information process for doctors and patients,” while also contributing to “making the consultations between doctors and patients more effective and less time-consuming,” Allesch says.
“It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done – but also the most interesting,” he adds. “It sounds like such a cliché but it’s true: I learn something new every day. Working with all these experienced doctors who have so much responsibility – I can’t imagine a more exciting job.”