Roeland Pater was in his late teens when he was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease, a form of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). He ignored it for as long as he could until he was finally hospitalised a few days before a holiday.
“All of a sudden, I was in the hospital and had people telling me I now had a chronic disease. That was very surreal,” he tells the Standard. “After a few years of trying to ignore it, I realised that everything in my life had changed. So I became aware that it was better to start dealing with it in a more healthy way.”
As well as taking advice from doctors for the medical care side of things, Pater started about making lifestyle changes, like watching what he ate and how he was sleeping.
He started using tracking tools in order to manage this side of the condition but found them hard to stay engaged with.
Thanks to his background in digital marketing for start-ups, he decided to use his tech knowledge to create a digital health platform that could help him manage his lifestyle, which eventually became Nori Health.
IBD and IBS: what are they?
IBD: Inflammatory bowel disease usually comes in two forms, either Ulcerative Colitis or Crohn’s Disease. It is the inflammation of the gut and symptoms include pain or cramps, recurring or bloody diarrhoea, weight loss, and extreme tiredness.
The disease affects 3.4 million people in Europe and between 300,000 - 600,000 in the UK.
IBS: Irritable bowel syndrome is a condition that affects the digestive syndrome. It causes symptoms such as stomach cramps, bloating, diarrhoea and constipation.
It's thought IBS affects around 10-20 per cent of the UK population at any one time.
What you need to know about Nori
Nori is an AI-powered digital coach for people living with IBD. On the platform, the little chatbot helps people manage their condition day to day such as suggesting improvements in habits such as diet, taking medications correctly, and exercising for 30 minutes every day.
Why a bot? Pater thinks the AI can help on a highly personal level on a large scale. “When you look at the healthcare systems in European countries, you see an increasing workload and shortage of professionals. Bots can help with this. They can avoid unnecessary hospital appointments by increasing knowledge and awareness and can provide personal support.”
Nori recently completed its first virtual trial in partnership with Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of the Netherlands (CCUVN). Participants rated an almost 28 per cent improvement in the daily management of their condition at the end of the six week trial.
As well, 56 per cent said they did not miss any social activities due to their condition at the end of the trial, which was a marked difference to the two weeks before they started.
This was particularly important to Pater to see how Nori’s assistance can improve outcomes for people. “One of the major issues for people with IBD and IBS is their social life. They are missing social activities because of their symptoms. In our trial, we have seen that over half of participants indicate that they missed social activities in the weeks before the program, but not anymore in the last two weeks. That’s potentially huge.”
Tineke Markus, CEO of CCUVN, said platforms like Nori are important because they offer access to healthcare support aside from the usual medication and surgery.
“We know lifestyle changes can really make a difference, but it can be very difficult for individuals to know whether they are doing the right thing for their particular body since everyone is different. Nori Health’s personalised digital coach is a very welcome and much needed addition to the marketplace.”
Health bots: IBD and beyond
Some of the learnings from the trial demonstrated how a platform like Nori Health could be suited for other chronic conditions. Participants were very open with the bot, reporting that they found it easier to talk about the disease with something that wasn’t close to them.
Already, patient foundations that represent other disease groups are approaching the company and Pater hopes to expand Nori’s work at some point in the future. There’s clearly a need too; around the world more than half of adults are believed to be living with some form of chronic disease or condition.
For now, though, the company’s focus is on improving the platform so patients report an up to 40 per cent improvement in the daily management of their condition.
A second clinical trial is starting this summer, whilst pilot programmes will begin at the end of the year with partners including hospitals, insurance companies and corporate health programmes. All the learnings from this will be fed back into Nori to make it better than ever. The company recently raised $670,000 (£527,000) in pre-seed investment to fund its next steps.
As well as helping people manage their conditions, working on Nori Health has also given Pater a new lease of life. “I was always struggling with finding my true purpose in professional life, I would love the work but it didn’t feel completely right,” he explains. “[Now], working on something that helps people to manage their health, or even save their lives, is very powerful and rewarding.”