‘We are working in an industry that is coming to reality as we speak’

MY SWEDISH CAREER: Over the past three years, Lorenzo Consoli has been learning how to navigate Sweden's startup world, while setting up a business which he hopes will help the half a billion people around the globe suffering from respiratory conditions.

'We are working in an industry that is coming to reality as we speak'
Lorenzo Consoli, CEO of NuvoAir. Photo: Lorenzo Consoli/NuvoAir

“I think technology can give doctors superpowers,” the Italian-born CEO tells The Local.

“Doctors can focus on the most critical patients and spend more time with those patients while de-prioritizing those that are coping with their condition.” 

His own experience growing up with asthma inspired him to work with respiratory conditions, and several years of working in the pharmaceutical industry gave him the tools to start his own company, NuvoAir. Founded in 2016, the startup produces respiratory diagnostic spirometers to help people monitor their lung health at home. 

“In the last two years, I worked in the digital health division of the [pharmaceutical] company. In that role, I had the opportunity to look at a lot of startups in the respiratory space. The objective was to look at how you could innovate beyond the pill. How can we deliver a service beyond the drug? What other services could we build on top?” Consoli explains. 

“I had the opportunity to work with a brilliant design agency in Stockholm which had conceptualized the first version of the device you see today at NuvoAir. “I fell in love with the product, I wanted to go back to my roots and I was very connected to respiratory health for many reasons. I felt the stars were aligned.”  

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It was because of the product that Lorenzo Consoli decided to take a giant step in his career and move to Stockholm to start his company. 

But following the launch, he found he had several challenges to deal with, not least the task of settling into a new country and working culture.

“Moving from Basel to Stockholm with the family was not easy, as my son was just born. Working very intensely, as it happens in a startup, under those conditions was hard,” he recalls.

On the business side, Consoli also had to spend time building up a professional network from scratch in Sweden, while still facing the usual obstacles in setting up a company such as recruiting and sourcing funding. 

The NuvoAir Team. Photo: Lorenzo Consoli/NuvoAir  

He views the company's journey as still in progress.

“I think we are far from calling it a successful startup. It’s true that we have received some funding and we have some traction but we are at the beginning of the journey,” Consoli says.

NuvoAir works with clinical trials, diagnostic and digital therapeutics, and he describes the company as “vertically integrated”, meaning hardware, software and algorithms are all developed in house.

But what sets Lorenzo Consoli apart as a leader? To him, that’s a harder question.

“We should ask the team,” he insists, but with some prodding he shares some of the characteristics he believes have helped him get this far.

“I think I am humble. It feels normal for me to say openly when I don’t know something because it pushes me to figure things out and constantly improve,” says Consoli. “I am genuinely an enthusiastic person and enthusiasm can be contagious. If you are enthusiastic about what you are doing there is a good chance that the people around you inevitably will be too.”

The Italian tells The Local that he feels inspired by the services his company is able to provide, and the leaps of progress taking place in the field.

“We are working in an industry that is coming to reality as we speak. And from my perspective, it’s quite inspiring to be part of a journey that is shaping an industry,” says Consoli.

“It’s also very inspiring sharing customers’ stories because the team can see the impact of their work in a direct way. Making an impact, receiving emails from customers thanking you because of the product that you provided, it’s really motivating.” 

Besides being able to help people and hear about the difference the products makes, Consoli is also motivated by the technology itself and says he believes that advances in tech will continue to change how healthcare works. 

“Technology and AI are bringing a paradigm shift to healthcare,” he explains. “As more data is collected AI can be applied…  I think technology can play a key role specifically where lifestyle changes are needed to improve the condition. This is certainly true in many chronic conditions including respiratory conditions.” 

A NuvoAir spirometer. Photo: Lorenzo Consoli/NuvoAir

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EXPLAINED: What to do if you face a long wait for healthcare in Sweden

Sweden theoretically has a "healthcare guarantee" limiting your wait to see a GP to three days, and to see a consultant to three months. The reality is somewhat different. Here's what you can do if you face a long wait.

EXPLAINED: What to do if you face a long wait for healthcare in Sweden

What is Sweden’s ‘healthcare guarantee’? 

Sweden’s “National Guaranteed Access to Healthcare” or vårdgaranti, is a right to care, protected by law, that has applied in Sweden since 2005. You can see the latest version of the relevant laws here and here. Here is a summary of the guarantee on the website of the Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions (SKR).

Under the system, all patients are guaranteed:

  • contact with a primary care centre by phone, in-person, or by video-link on the day they seek care 
  • an appointment with a doctor, nurse, physio, or psychotherapist within three days of seeking help 
  • an appointment with a specialist doctor or consultant within 90 days of seeking help 
  • treatment or operation within 90 days, if the specialist considers this necessary 

Does the guarantee mean I have a right to treatment? 

No. If the doctor at the primary care centre, after examining you and questioning you, decides that there is no reason to refer you to a specialist doctor, they do not need to do so. 

Similarly, if the specialist doctor, after examining you, decides that no treatment is necessary, then your case is considered completed.  

Can the waiting times to see a specialist or to get treatment be longer than 90 days? 

Absolutely. In fact, they very often are. 

According to the Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions (SKR), in February, 32 percent of patients had been waiting 90 days or more to see a specialist, and 43 percent of those who had seen a specialist had been waiting for treatment for more than 90 days.  

The situation in primary care was a little better, with 80 percent of those seeking care in contact with their primary care centre on the same day, and 83 percent having their case assessed by a doctor or nurse within three days. 

In addition, if you agree with your specialist doctor that you are willing to wait longer for an operation, then that wait doesn’t get counted in the statistics. 

So what can I do if I’ve been waiting longer than the guaranteed time? 

In reality, it’s actually less a guarantee than a target.

In primary care, there is no way for individual patients to complain that they have had to wait too long to see a doctor or nurse, or to cut their waiting times by citing the guarantee. 

“There’s no system for enforcing that guarantee,” says Emma Spak, the primary care doctor who doubles as section chief for SKR’s healthcare division. 

It would make no sense to set up a complaints line for those who have had to wait too long for phone contact with their primary care centre, she points out, when they could instead talk to patients seeking a primary care appointment in the first place. 

“It’s more of an incentive system for the regions,” she explains.

Every primary care unit and every region reports their waiting times to the national waiting time register, and then as part of the access agreement between SKR and the government, the regional health authorities receive a bonus if they meet their waiting times goal, or if they improve their waiting times. “That’s one way of sort of enforcing this guarantee,” she says. 

When it comes to specialist treatment, though, patients do have the right to demand to be examined or treated by an alternative specialist or hospital if they’ve had to wait longer than 90 days.

If your primary care centre issues you a referral to a specialist, and the specialist cannot then offer you an appointment within 90 days, the specialist, at the same time as offering you a later appointment, will often put you in contact with a unit at the regional health authority who will offer to find you an alternative specialist, either within the region or elsewhere in Sweden. 

The regional health authority will then have to reimburse any extra travel or hotel costs incurred by the patient.  

Similarly, if after examining you, a specialist cannot offer you treatment within 90 days, they will normally put you in contact with the same unit. 

Some regions have a phone line for people who have been waiting too long, or else you can contact your specialist or primary care centre and ask for information on seeking an alternative specialist. 

What happens if I don’t want to travel to see a specialist or get treatment? 

If your regional health authority offers you an alternative specialist, either within your region or in another region, so that you can get treated within the 90 day period, and you are unwilling to travel, then you lose your rights under the guarantee. . 

“If you’re in Gothenburg, and they say you have to go to Stockholm to get your treatment, and you say, ‘no, I want to go here, then then you’ve sort of forfeited your right, and you have to take what’s on offer,” Spak says. 

What happens if I agree with my specialist to wait longer? 

If your specialist says that they can treat you in four months, but also offers you treatment elsewhere within the guaranteed 90 days, and you choose to be treated by your specialist, then that counts as a patient choice, which will not then be counted in the statistics. 

“The specialist might say, ‘I don’t think you will get any worse for waiting two months extra, and if you wait five months, then I can make sure that you get your surgery done here, and we can make sure that you get all the aftercare and everything here as well,” Spak says. 

But these patient decisions are also counted in the statistics, and if a region sees a sharp rise in patients choosing to wait, SKR will tend to investigate. 

“If some region all of a sudden has a lot of patients choosing a longer waiting time, then we will call them and ask what’s going on here, because patients don’t tend to want to wait extra,” Spak says.  

Can I get financial compensation if I’ve been waiting too long? 


What other ways are there of speeding up the wait for treatment? 

Don’t underplay your symptoms

When drawing up their timetable for treatment and assessment, specialists will tend to give different patients different wait times depending on the urgency of their case.

For this reason, it’s important not to underplay your symptoms when visiting a primary care doctor, as they will tend to include a few lines on the urgency of your case when they write their referral. 

Stress your flexibility 

If you are unemployed, a student, retired, or have a very flexible job, it is worth telling your primary care doctor about this, because they may write in your referral that you are able to make appointments at very short notice. The specialist may then put you on their list of people to ring if one of their patients cancels. 

“Sometimes I write in my referrals that this patient could easily come at short notice, so please put the patient on the list for people you can call if there’s a time slot available,” Spak says. 

If you haven’t told your primary care doctor this, it’s not too late. You can ring the specialist yourself and tell their receptionist that you are very flexible, and ask to be put on the back-up list. This is particularly useful if you’re waiting for a scan, but you could also potentially work even if you’re waiting for heart surgery or a hip replacement. 

“If they’ve accepted you as a patient, and they’ve made sure that you fulfil the criteria for having that scan or whatever, then you can call them and say, ‘I have a really flexible job, I can come anytime if you have a gap,'” Spak says.

“A lot of people do that, because they can have [back-up] waiting lists. If you tell them ‘I work around the corner and I only need 15 minutes to be there’, then they might call you if someone doesn’t show up.” 

Ring up your specialist 

The queue system tends to be quite ad hoc, with no strict rules over who should be treated first, so it is often possible to reduce your wait by ringing up your specialist a few times a month, just to bring your case to their attention. Sometimes the receptionist will remember a slot that has just come free and bring forward your treatment while you are still on the telephone.