Sport4Health started receiving EIT Health Innovation Project support this year. Developed with the understanding that people are more likely to undertake the exercise they need if they can do so in an enjoyable group setting, Sport4Health brings together partners – like Viseo, SENS Laboratory, Hospital Clinic in Barcelona, IESE Business School, PAU Education, CHU Grenoble and others – to provide an app that encourages patients to participate in sports associations. We interviewed Thibault Parmentier, one of the project founders about how the system works, and how his association with EIT Health has helped.

Q: What is your role in the Sport4Health project and who is the team behind it?

A: Viseo is the leader of this project, which was conceived by Domoina Rabarijaona and myself. The idea starts from the simple fact that sport is good for health, but few, or none, of the sport clubs relate to healthcare systems. These two worlds live in parallel without meeting each other.

With this in mind, we designed the project Sport4Health by associating sports experts, like Alain Wache from Grenoble rowing club, Jean Ponard from Grenoble biking club, some health professors, like Jean-Louis Pepin from the HP2 laboratory at the Centre Hospitalier Universitaire  of Grenoble and Josep Roca from Hospital Clinic in Barcelona, to set up the scientific challenges and the means to address them.

Afterwards, we identified some gaps in the motivational aspects and dissemination, so SENS Laboratory from Grenoble and PAU Education from Spain were brought in to reinforce and complete the team.

Of course, IESE Business School in Barcelona is part of the venture. We started working with them since the beginning of EIT Health, and they bring us their expertise on all the business aspects and challenge us in becoming go-to-market ready.

Q: How did you form the partnership behind the project? Has your association with EIT Health helped you build the partnership?

A: As explained, the partnership was formed by Viseo, based on the trusting relationship that was created since the InnoLIFE proposal. Most of the EIT Health partners (IESE, UGA, Philips, Viseo) were part of the Governance working group lead by Ramon Wyss from KTH.

This is a real added value of the KIC concept: working with partners you know and you trust is much easier, and helps us to try to realise a three-year project in only one year – though two years really would be better.

Q: Can you give a description of how Sport4Health works? What will a typical user see when they open and use the app?

A: Sport4Health is a clinical trial that aims at evaluating the capacity and the pertinence of actors coming from different worlds in working together. We are focused on addressing sleep apnea and obesity for the first cohorts, and we will make a try at cancer patients for the last one. We provide three app/websites depending on the user. When connected to the app, the patient has access to his/her sport prescription and can subscribe to dedicated sport sessions. The app also drives the patient to complete some measurements and fill in online questionnaires. The patient can also get some feedback on his/her activities from the app.

Q: How would health providers and sport associations interact with, and contribute to, the app?

A: The physician will be able to incorporate a patient in the clinical trial and, afterwards, follow his/her physical activities. On their side, the sports associations will fill out the calendar with proposed sessions for the various patient groups.

Q: How will patients benefit from the medical monitoring made possible with the app?

A: This part is very limited this year. This is one of the points we want to work on if there is a prolongation on this project. Due to the clinical trial constraints, we had to fix the functional parameter of the app very early. So, the patient has feedback from the connected devices that the consortium provides for the length of the experiment, but at this stage there is not medical feedback provided by a physician through the app. This will be done directly during face to face meetings.

Q: Your app is designed to encourage people to join sport associations, to prevent isolation. Can you explain the focus on sport associations? Are team sports a more attractive option when you are trying to encourage people to exercise?

A: Sport associations, at least in France, are organisations based on volunteer work, and they welcome a large variety of populations (children, students, adults, etc.). Exercising inside this kind of structure is the most efficient way to let patients get involved in more than their own workout. The sports we have chosen [such as biking or rowing] are individual, but involve team practices. It is important to allow for individual engagement to let people go at their rhythm, their intensity, but letting them practice in a group encourages solidarity between people.

Q: Are you eventually planning to measure the system’s effectiveness in battling obesity, and thereby sleep apnea? If so, can you say why you singled out that one health issue and how you might measure success?

A: The objective is to create bridges between a world that has to deal with obesity and another one that could bring some solutions. The clinical trials aim at comparing the exercise adherence of patients depending on the kind of structures. This will lead to a kind of direct cost efficiency, but more important, an evaluation of potential gain by estimating the reduction in standard health costs. Patients with sleep apnea and obesity are usually very reluctant to get involved in an exercise program. In contrast, cancer patients are usually more participative. We hope that the organisation we made of the distinct cohorts will provide us some interesting results and good clues to push forward and to scale up the Sport4Health project.

Q: What stage of development have you achieved, and what are the next stages for development?

A: The first version of each application is quasi-finalised. We still need to integrate the data coming from the connected devices, but aside from this point we are OK. During the month of March, we are validating compliance with the 2017 regulation and launching an audit to validate the compliance with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).  Grenoble and Barcelona hospitals are going through their ethics process to check the compliance. The clinical trial will start as soon as everything is validated, hopefully in mid-April. Afterwards, we will work on evolution and improvements that will be tested inside an amendment of the first clinical trial.

For this undertaking, being compliant with the one year duration of the project is a challenge. As soon as we start the trial, we will launch the sustainability study involving the key partners.

Q: How does the EIT Health, and membership in the EIT Health community, facilitate development of the project?

A: As of this stage, in mid-March, except for the confidence we have in the partners, there isn’t yet any impact from them. As soon as we will begin the trial, we will communicate to our partners, so they can use the community to amplify the potential impact of the project.

The success of the project is not only in the quality of the app. It is at least as important to prove that partners from the worlds of sport and health can collaborate in a beneficial way. We want to show that this collaboration is good for people’s health and good for the financial balance of the health system, and that patients can exercise in safe conditions. We need to capitalize on the know-how we are building and communicate the lessons of this experience.

As we seek to achieve that and prepare for 2018, the EIT Health community will act as a sounding board.

Q: Can other EIT Health members get involved in the project? How?

A: We are looking for partners to join in the deployment of this project for next year. France and Spain’s healthcare system are next to be opened to this transformation of including physical activity as one possibility for treatment of chronical diseases.

We are actively looking for some payers to be part of the 2018 venture and we would like to enlarge the countries involved. So, just contact us before the submission deadline – 12 April!

Q: Is there anything else you would like to add?

A: This is really a just-in-time project: France passed a law on “sport prescription” in 2016 December, and Spain is on the same path. If we are able to address the requirements of these laws, and provide physicians a simple, ethical and safe way to prescribe sport/physical activity, this project could really contribute to the EIT Health goals: Healthy living, active aging and sustainability of the system.

For more information, write to dra@viseo.com.