Dr Oluwatobi Adesanya; GP, Women in Tech award winner, and founder of Marpe Wellbeing
Can you introduce yourself and tell us about your current role?
My name is Dr Oluwatobi Adesanya, but everyone calls me Tobi. For my current role, that’s a difficult question, as I wear different hats! Most people know me as Dr Tobi, GP. That’s my main role, as a GP based in the Midlands. I have turned into a Tech Guru!
At the peak of the pandemic, I started a company called Marpe Wellbeing, which is a digital mental health initiative. I’m the medical director, co-founder of Marpe Wellbeing; apart from that I am also a wife and a mother!
What initially inspired you to become a GP?
I finished medical school at the age of 23, in London. I was really into hospital medicine, the fast-paced hospital vibes; and I loved it, I still love it. I also loved lots of other specialities, women’s health is one of my specialist interests. Mental health is one of my major interests. I felt that narrowing in on one single hospital with maybe no specialty was just too narrow for me.
I felt that I wanted to experience and do everything! I loved everything and I was good at everything that I did, and I loved it in different ways. I had different pockets of places that I really loved. When I thought about it, I thought I had two options, either A&E or general practice.
I felt that with general practice you would get some continuity with patients. You get to meet families, the grandparents, the children, the grandkids! I loved that you get to see everything, and general practice is the love of my life!
You have a special interest in womens health, do you think awareness of, and research into women’s health is progressing quickly enough?
I would say yes and no. There have been a lot of advances in women’s health. One of the things that comes to mind is menopause, it’s one of the things I love to talk about. I would say that we are still a little bit backwards on that, there is not a lot of awareness, including amongst clinicians.
If you think about technology, and women’s health, I don’t think we have even reached even a little bit of it yet. I think we still have a long way to go. However, we are doing well in terms of screening for different cancers, cervical cancer, breast cancer; I think we still have a way to go and there can still be more advances in women’s health.
How do you think General Practice will change over the next 5 years, what do you think is the future of General Practice?
Everyone hates what has happened with the pandemic and COVID, but I always like to see the positives. I think the pandemic has brought about a change, in terms of making things more accessible and digitising a lot of things.
There are a lot of companies that have come out that have made a lot of differences in general practice. You will have heard in the media that there is a lot of backlash against GPs at the moment in terms of not seeing patients, I’ll just put it out there – we are seeing patients!
In terms of general practice, one of the things that has changed, is the way we work. I’m a clinician and I know this might sound interesting because I have a digital health-tech company that is remote; I actually prefer face to face. Having said that, we need to think of how the world is going and how technology is going as well. I always believe in being forward thinking.
Refining the process
It’s important for the 26-year-old lawyer to be able to do her meetings, and then in her lunch time, quickly have a conversation with her GP to discuss her mental health; rather than taking the morning off and cancelling meetings just so she can travel down and see her GP.
I personally think there has been a good change. I think there are a lot of things that need to be refined. For example, maybe, instead of everything first being telephone, perhaps for some obvious things like stomach pain or bleeding, that it can be a pre-bookable appointment.
I think the pandemic has maybe made us go a bit askew to one direction, but I do think that in the next few months, these things will be refined. Things are changing every day and hopefully we’ll get to that point whereby it serves the community good, and GPs good. I think it’s also good for GPs as it makes you more flexible in terms of your time.
Congratulations on winning the Women in Tech award! Can you tell us about how it felt to win the award?
I remember getting an email saying ‘you have been nominated’ I didn’t really know what it was, and I was so busy that I left it in my email for ages, until a week before the deadline; I had to fill in a form. I then had an interview in Birmingham with 7 people grilling me about Marpe! It was fun though because it was an opportunity to share my passion.
In terms of winning it, I was speechless, I think I still am speechless! When it comes to your own project, it is like your own baby, it’s me that has the passion for it and winning this means other people believe in that passion. It means a lot and its definitely amazing to win. I was shocked as I didn’t go to the event thinking I was going to win, I didn’t even buy a new dress! I was so happy to come home with my award.
You won the award for Marpe Wellbeing, can you tell us a bit about what inspired you start this?
When COIVD happened, general practice became chaotic; we didn’t know what to do. There could be an announcement on your email saying there had been a COVID case yesterday in your surgery and everything has to be closed down, and everything needs to be deep cleaned and it was chaotic for about a week or two.
We then opened the ‘hot clinic’ – the COVID clinic, for anyone with a fever or breathlessness and if they wanted to see a GP they would be diverted to the hot clinic. In my area, I was one of the first doctors to start working in those clinics. It was depressing because patients were coming in very, very unwell. You would come home thinking ‘what is going on?’. I had never seen anything like that; we lived through a historical moment. The lock down affected everybody, young people, middle aged people; people were being affected in terms of their mental health. People were developing health anxiety; people’s moods were dropping. I was prescribing a lot of anti-depressants and sleeping pills at that time.
I was referring to counselling, and the counselling waiting list went bonkers – at some points it was 12 month waiting time. I always say, if you had an infection that needed antibiotics, would you wait 12 months? The answer is no, and I believe it’s the same thing for counselling. Anti-depressants work, medication works – but I believe that counselling and psychotherapy actually helps to cure; it can be curative in terms of the underlining cause. So, this is something I personally believe in, that everybody should have access to therapy.
Developing Marpe Wellbeing
I would come home and say to my husband, that I can’t believe this, patients are struggling with access. Then one of my friends forwarded me something from Innovate UK. They wanted to give £50,000 to a company that has initiated to solve a problem in the pandemic. When I was discussing it with my husband, he said you always talk about mental health, you love mental health and he said that he thought it was about time I did something about it! And that’s how it started, I ended up writing out an idea and exploring it, which was based on the £50,000 grant from Innovate UK… guess what? I didn’t get it! But it was a great process; the application was horrific, but helped me to define my ideas, it was definitely good that I did that.
Around a month after I found I didn’t have the grant, I thought I have already started to talk to developers about this and I have £30,000 saved for a house deposit – I’m going to use that money, and that’s what I did! From idea, to product it took 4 months. During the time, it was the peak of the pandemic, my daughter’s nursery wasn’t open and my mum was in ICU with COVID, so it was a welcome distraction in many ways.
What would you like to see for the future of Marpe Wellbeing?
Our first thing is mental health, and our niche is young people in particular. One of the things that we tackle, that we struggle with in general practice, is help for teenagers. That is because we can’t refer them directly for counselling. Counselling that’s available for young people under the NHS is a bit limited so we struggle; so I am hoping that Marpe Wellbeing will be a force to break that struggle, especially for teenagers.
Currently we have counsellors, psychotherapists and psychologists on our platform and my aim is to expand that further in terms of specialties. I do plan to get the licensing needed to get Doctors to be able to work on the platform, the CQC registration. So that would be GPs, and then hopefully really get that going; and expand to other specialities as well. I have loads of ideas, I have a list of things, but its just step by step!
Did you feel any pressure being a female in the tech world?
The way I see it, is this is something I want to do. This is something I am passionate about. There are loads of women in tech. It is dominated by males, but it is empowering seeing other women in tech; and examples like the awards night – it is so empowering to see all those women. I wouldn’t say I feel pressure. My background is medical, I have had to learn a lot of things along the way, and when you’re having to speak to developers every night, sometimes in the middle of the night – you will pick up things. You don’t have to have a degree in computer science – my degree is medical!
I think what is needed is the passion and the vision. And I think for some women, what they think is that they need to have knowledge of coding. I don’t know how to code! I think I have learnt one or two things, but I don’t know how to code!
How do you think we can encourage more women into tech?
This is something that I am passionate about. One of the things I did early on is to have 5 interns – female interns! I didn’t set out to have just female interns, it just worked out that way. It was amazing to have 5 diverse interns from different parts of the UK. They worked remotely for three months, and I think that’s one of the ways to encourage them, to give those opportunities to people. It was an eye opener for them (the interns), it showed them what they can do, and let them see what they can aspire to.
Also talking – talking to people, going to schools is something that I like to do, and telling people about it. Showing people that this is not something that is far from reach or is impossible. We are in a tech generation, and in the curriculum now there is coding classes – so we are in that generation. So, I’m hoping that women are encouraged to go into the tech world.
Your platform uses video technology – do you think this could be a large part of the future of therapy?
Earlier today I was doing some video interviews, and one of the questions I ask is about how you feel the transition has been from face to face to remote therapy. As a clinician myself, I was actually against it in the beginning. I felt that when somebody walked into a room – you can tell a lot. If someone is saying they have tummy pain and they walk into the room smiling, you know it can’t be that bad. But if they come in holding their tummy, clammy and not walking properly – you know we have got a problem. I think that’s the same with mental health. You can tell a lot from someone when they walk into a room. That’s how we have been trained and what we are used to.
Dynamic & adaptive
But, I believe one of the things we have to ‘be’ as clinicians, as healthcare professionals, is that we have to be dynamic; we have to be adaptive. And now that we are in this tech space, we must learn new ways and pick up on different cues, new cues in terms of carrying out our healthcare practices.
So, yes, video technology will be a large part of therapy. The positives are also that I am in the Midlands right now, if I was a therapist, I could be consulting with someone in London, or Manchester! I think people can still do face to face, and people are doing – but I think the option for remote is great. Especially for young people, they are used to FaceTime, so they are used to these things, so it actually works well for them. As clinicians we have to get used to that!
Finally, what is the best advice you could give to someone who is starting their own tech company?
You need to be organised. The main thing is not to just do what everyone else is doing. Follow what your passions are, as there are a lot of ups and downs. There are times when things don’t go right, or when the developers do things wrong! But, if you are passionate about something, passionate about a cause – that’s what you need to be able to continue and get to the point where you want to get to.
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