Anže Droljc, Better's head of global business development, discusses healthcare innovation, credibility, and the future of data management. And Lego.

“Shaping the future of healthcare” – an interview with Better’s Anže Droljc

Anže Droljc has been with Better for almost 20 years, having joined the company fresh out of university. During his time there he has worn many hats, currently heading global business development and the Slovenian market unit. Having studied computer and information science, Anze’s background lies in IT. After joining Better, he became part of a team tasked with developing projects and products for the Institute of Oncology and Children’s Hospital at the University Medical Centre in Ljubljana. His role involved analysing requirements, understanding medical teams’ “jobs to be done”, creating prototypes, leading clinical application product development, and implementing solutions into production.

His knowledge in IT, technology, architecture, and clinical domain, coupled with his first-hand understanding of healthcare operations, facilitated effective communication with different stakeholders over the years and allowed him to understand their challenges to position Better’s products as viable solutions.

Do you feel part of the healthcare system?

I do, actually. I’ve been in healthcare for about 18 years, navigating various roles within the industry. It’s been quite a journey, and I’ve really moved through different phases along the way. 

For me, credibility is key. I can’t just go out there and promote a product or advocate for something without truly understanding how it impacts the end users. That’s why experience matters – I need to understand the actual problem that our product needs to solve, and the challenges faced by those on the receiving end.

That’s why I believe it is important to spend time with end-users, listening to their feedback, and understanding their needs. It’s only by immersing ourselves in their world that we can create technology and products that meet their needs. Our design and product teams, as well as our analysts, play a crucial role here, conducting interviews and gaining invaluable insights that shape our approach.

Tell us about your involvement in the Better Meds and One London projects.

When it comes to Better Meds, we started developing the product in Slovenia and once we identified the product was a good fit for the UK market, my colleagues and I spent seven or eight years working on our UK go-to-market strategy. I was hands-on involved in getting our first customer in Plymouth, followed by Taunton and Somerset NHS Trust. The latter, and the 100,000 Genome project, were our first customers to use Better Platform (openEHR) in the UK. As the NHS gradually shifted towards regional healthcare and integrated care systems, our platform together with the Low-Code Studio was a perfect fit. 

We started winning regional deals and eventually One London Shared Care Planning solution for all 5 Integrated Care Systems. With the One London tender, we already had a local team in place, but I continued working with the team on our bid response. 

It’s been a decade-long journey to get into the nitty-gritty details of the UK market. But being involved in projects like One London, several NHS Trusts – some of them part of the so-called GDE (Global Digital Exemplar) program – and various regional initiatives has definitely boosted our reputation.

According to Anže, one significant game-changer in the digitalisation of healthcare in England was the establishment of the NHS Digital Academy. 

Before its existence, discussions with decision-makers primarily revolved around explaining the importance of standardised data, different standards, and the drawbacks of monolithic systems. But with the Academy in place, the conversation has shifted from convincing the decision-makers of the need for data in a vendor-neutral format to discussing how to actually implement modern platform and standard based solutions.

What are you working on at the moment?

Currently, I’m focused on three main areas. As the business unit lead for Slovenia, I’m focusing on developing the market here to extend opportunities with existing customers, to help with further digitalisation on a national level and to bring our international experience to the home market. We’re aiming to establish a  federated patient record system, building on our existing national data backbone to create an ecosystem of national and local apps.

Over the past two years, I’ve also been heavily involved in the Dutch market, leveraging my UK experience. I’ve been raising awareness about openEHR, talking to decision-makers, standard bodies and potential partners. This has resulted in a promising pipeline of opportunities, including ongoing discussions with one region for a potential contract.

There was initially a preference for FHIR and HL7 in the Netherlands, but there is frustration with mega-vendors who are locking in hospitals and regions. I’ve been working with our Dutch partners, several individuals as well as the Dutch openEHR affiliate, to raise openEHR awareness in the country. In November last year, openEHR NL organised a really successful event with more than 240 attendees, facilitated by dedicated local teams and individuals. Although there’s still caution around the implementation of openEHR, the momentum is building.

Finally, on a global scale, I’m committed to maintaining an active presence on social media platforms, particularly LinkedIn, and participating in relevant events. My aim is to talk about our products, the benefits of our approach, lessons learned from our customers, openEHR and Better, just to help spread the awareness and know-how and also to stay on track with what’s going on globally. That way, I can identify opportunities to connect with local teams or individuals interested in our solutions, whether through direct engagement or online interactions. 

Do you see networking as part of your job? 

Absolutely, it takes up the majority of my daily activities. I prefer in-person networking, but with our global presence, there is a lot of digital networking as well. 

I lean more towards the strategic side of business development. It’s about getting a feel for different markets, spotting trends and figuring out which markets could be a good fit for us, especially in areas like healthcare and digital health.

You mentioned spotting trends: are there places across the world that look like they’re going to be worth investing your time and effort in?

Different parts of the world require a different approach. For us, Europe stands out as a focal point. Obviously it’s on our doorstep, but more importantly, the mentality and healthcare setup is familiar, especially when you compare it to the US market with its reliance on Epic and reimbursement systems. 

Europe also presents an interesting landscape because there’s a growing discontent with the traditional, outdated, monolithic healthcare systems. Big players are either shutting down or facing backlash after acquisitions. This leaves a hole in the market which begs the question: what’s the alternative?

In Germany, you’ve got legacy systems, while Switzerland relies on local systems – both are functional but technologically dated. A shift towards more adaptable platforms over monolithic structures is gaining traction. You have to redevelop anyway, so why would you do it in the old way and replace one old EHR with another outdated EHR? Adopting a modern, modular approach is far more pragmatic.

Also, care is moving to a regional level, embracing integrated care that spans beyond traditional healthcare settings. You can’t implement a monolith or hospital EHR on a regional level and hope it’s going to work because it’s not. You have to include patient-facing apps, chronic care management apps, care planning, and you have to include social care and mental health providers, all of which were historically working in isolation. And you need to make sure that all the stakeholders involved in patient care and wellbeing have access to the relevant information.

That’s where the openEHR-based platform comes in, because it enables the creation of a vendor-neutral clinical data repository which is independent from applications. This creates an opportunity to build multi-vendor ecosystems that store data independently of the applications, enabling integrations at the data level, rather than the usual app to app level. By embracing modular, adaptable systems, we’re not just upgrading; we’re future-proofing our approach and creating an environment which will allow for more innovation and faster digitalisation in the healthcare landscape. 

The company’s digital health platform is designed with this in mind. It offers a three-tiered solution: data storage using openEHR for structured clinical data and FHIR for structured operational data and API interfaces, a content layer where standardised elements, like forms, risk scores, care plans, eventually workflows, decision support, even AI are stored and shared. And then a separate composition layer with Low Code tools which allow that these components can be built and assembled to create user-friendly applications, within a local environment, and with minimal programming.

We’ve had a successful use case in Nigeria, for example. There’s a case study and a video detailing this on our website.  It’s interesting because the hospital chain didn’t have the money to buy an EHR, but they needed a simple solution to support their operations.

They had a small development team, a couple of programmers. They didn’t have the luxury of time to build everything from scratch. So essentially, they used our platform and pre-built components, along with architectural solutions, as their foundation. Some things they had to develop, for others they used our low code tools. Within a year, they built a full, light EHR that supports their chain of clinics. 

We’re seeing more partners like this one, in countries where either they’re behind with the digitalisation and need to start from scratch, or they just don’t have the money to buy the big monoliths. Their solutions may not rival Epic and Cerner in terms of power, but with more IT vendors developing on openEHR, they will catch up.  Especially if more big vendors such as Tieto in Norway, who are using our Better Platform to modernise their EHR, adopt the approach and take advantage of the benefits of using low-code environment and digital health platform capabilities as the cornerstone for rapid development and ecosystem creation.

But moving away from the current legacy systems to what openEHR enables is still a significant challenge and a big task. Discussions are now focusing on how we’re going to make that transition. There are already some components in place but it’s still not easy. Even if people understand the benefits and are on-board, actually getting them to commit and take action requires a lot of effort. Spreading the know-how that already exists is tremendously useful.

How do you start those conversations with stakeholders? 

The Lego analogy is perfect. I think people can relate because we all played with Lego. The beauty of it is how timeless it is; just like those old Lego blocks from our childhood, the basic concepts of openEHR remain constant. 

Whenever I use the Lego analogy, I always make sure to mention how those classic Lego pieces from way back still fit perfectly with the latest fancy Technic sets. It’s like a seamless integration, and it’s the same with openEHR: the foundational elements – like archetypes and templates – have been around for ages, but they can adapt to new and more complex scenarios. The essence of it being in reusability, collaboration and addition to what already exists.

The core principles stay solid, allowing all these different ‘blocks’ to connect. It’s like the ultimate building system for healthcare data, built to last and evolve at the same time. Because, let’s face it, we can have the best apps for healthcare, but if these apps do not have comprehensive patient data that all stakeholders can trust, they will never deliver the full potential and there will always be fallback to paper and asking patients about their medical history and current symptoms.





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