SYMPTOMA: Helping Physicians To Make The Right Diagnosis For Their Patients

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Jama Nateqi, co-founder of the online diagnosis platform SYMPTOMA, explains why he started the search engine and how they plan to save 1.5 million lives on a yearly basis:

Describe SYMPTOMA in 50 words or less.

SYMPTOMA is a search engine for diseases. Physicians enter symptoms and receive a list of matching causes. Our lists are sorted by the probability for the case according to age, gender and region. SYMPTOMA helps physicians to make the right diagnosis for their patients.

Why did you decide to pursue your own dreams rather than someone else’s?

Working in the hospital I noticed how difficult it is to actually find the right diagnosis out of +20,000 possible diseases. One in seven diagnoses is wrong. Only 3% of all physicians are satisfied with existing research options for diagnostic information. Each year, 0.5 – 1.5 million lives could be saved with the right diagnosis.

One day we had an emergency call. One patient was about to die. I was one of the first ones on the scene and started the resuscitation, together with a team of other medical doctors. After 45 minutes the patient was in a stable yet critical condition. However, the patient had been misdiagnosed for years. He would die of his illness anyway. At an earlier stage the patient’s disease would have been treatable. This was the last day for me as a doctor in a hospital.

Thereupon my co-founder Thomas Lutz and I focused on the research & development of SYMPTOMA in order to prevent such misdiagnoses in the future.

Describe your typical working day from coming to the office to leaving it.

My typical working day starts waking up in the morning by checking the tasks for the day, before I do anything else, and stops in the evening falling asleep next to my laptop. Actually, it doesn’t even stop there, as I keep having dreams of work solving tricky challenges. This is pretty usual for startup founders. We live the work. There is no starting or stopping the work.

7 years from now: How did your startup change the world?

To date, 1 in 7 diagnoses are misdiagnoses. Each year, 0.5 – 1.5 million lives could be saved with the right diagnosis. Diagnostic errors pose a significant threat to patient’s lives and financially to hospitals and physicians themselves. Physicians are lacking other sufficient sources and tools to get diagnostic information from and they can’t memorize all 20,000 diseases with their millions of connections to symptoms, risk factors and statistics. With SYMPTOMA they can quickly find what they need and use their skills and knowledge to treat patients urgently.

SYMPTOMA will be saving 1.5 million lives on a yearly basis and improve all of our lives, as we currently all are affected by misdiagnoses and thus mistreatments.

In what ways do you measure your success and how do you make sure you don’t lose track?

Our number one metric is “lives saved”, which the core of our mission.

Already pivoted? Did customers use the search engine like you imagined it in the beginning?

We have iterated our business model on the way. I wouldn’t call it a pivot.

Bootstrapped or financed: What fuels your startup now and what will in the future?

The company is financed by its own cash flow (self-funded). In 2015 we received a VC investment of about 1mln Euros. Various governmental grants are accelerating our growth. As our cash flow situation is pretty strong, we anticipate a further cash flow driven growth in the future.

With ferocious competition and a booming trend to build new companies: How do you make sure you don’t get lost in the shuffle?

We have invested +7 years in research and have built the probably biggest and most complex diseases database with millions of connections to symptoms, risk factors and statistics. Our proprietary algorithm delivers results sorted by probability for the case. We have accomplished what other companies try to build since the 70s. We further invest in research & development to keep our competitive edge.

What do you look for in team members?

Motivated, intelligent, outgoing people with passion. We are looking for talents that define the job position. Talents who share the same values we do and who pursue the same mission – saving lives with SYMPTOMA.

Why would a talent join your team?

SYMPTOMA’s mission attracts many highly talented people. Furthermore, our working environment empowers each team member to live up to his/her full potential. As we are often pioneers at what we do, people at SYMPTOMA actually have to be very resourceful and creative. Failure is not an option.

What was your most memorable moment so far?

Receiving the news, that SYMPTOMA saved the first patient’s live, was a huge goosebumps moment for us that we won’t forget.

What advice would you give fellow founders for their startup?

Being a founder is extremely challenging – and this is still an understatement – yet rewarding. Only when the idea and the team are strong enough, you may master the startup life successfully. Co-founding SYMPTOMA with Thomas Lutz, on whom I can rely on 100%, was an easy choice for me. We are working together as serial co-founders since 2002 (14 years!).



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