Our big idea: The UK's first AI physiotherapy clinic

Finn Stevenson, co-founder and CEO at Flok Health, reveals how artificial intelligence back pain assessment and treatment works
BizAge Interview Team
Flok Health Co-Founders Finn Stevenson & Ric da Silva

Hi Finn! What's your elevator pitch?

Flok is the UK’s first autonomous physiotherapy clinic, unlocking same-day access to care for thousands of NHS patients with back pain. We’re striving to eliminate long waits for MSK physiotherapy on the NHS and support faster recovery by providing access to on-demand video appointments with an AI physiotherapist, who is available 24/7, with no waiting list. Flok is the first and only AI platform of its kind to be approved by the Care Quality Commission as a registered healthcare provider. Built on a proprietary domain-specific programming language that can safely handle clinical reasoning at scale, our platform offers a brand new digital care pathway for patients in need of physiotherapy.  

Why does the market need it?

MSK conditions - such as back pain - currently account for around a third of all GP appointments in the UK. And more than a quarter of patients on NHS wait lists for physiotherapy are waiting more than three months to be seen by an NHS physiotherapy service. With NHS services under intensifying pressure there isn’t the capacity to tackle this demand, and thousands of patients are left waiting for treatment and battling pain as a result.

Flok is helping free up capacity and reduce wait times by creating a new digital care pathway that provides same-day access to treatment and reduces the number of patients joining wait lists for in-person care.

Patients can be referred, or can self-refer, to Flok’s AI physiotherapy clinic, where they can begin assessment and treatment immediately. Accessible via a smartphone app, the clinic provides automated video appointments with an AI physiotherapist who delivers a personalised treatment programme, which may include exercise prescription, pain management techniques, and ongoing assessments.

Where is the business today?

To date, we’ve run trials with four different NHS organisations, which have used Flok to provide treatment to people experiencing back pain. Following the success of these pilot studies, we’re preparing to launch with several NHS Trusts later this year, meaning thousands of NHS patients will soon be able to self-refer to Flok for AI physiotherapy treatment.

What made you think there was money in this?

I have a background in medicine and musculoskeletal science, but the inspiration for Flok was ultimately sparked during my time as a professional rower. While training day in, day out, I had round-the-clock access to physiotherapy support, which helped me recover quickly from any injuries. After leaving the sport, I visited my GP with back pain and came face-to-face with the reality of accessing physiotherapy for the vast majority of people outside the world of elite sport. It was a bleak choice between joining a long wait list on the NHS, or footing a staggering bill for private care.

Knowing how effective physiotherapy could be when delivered quickly - before symptoms have the chance to worsen - I was determined to find a way to make this possible for more people in a cost-effective and scalable way.

With MSK conditions accounting for such a significant proportion of GP appointments every year, we knew there would be an appetite for a scalable MSK care solution.

What is the secret to making the business work?

When developing technology, particularly with AI, that is going to automate clinical care and decision making, safety is both a considerable challenge and an unwavering priority. Patient safety has to lead every design decision and there is zero room for error or unwarranted variation in the way the AI model performs clinical reasoning.

We quickly realised that existing programming languages weren’t equipped to handle this kind of nuanced decision-making. To overcome this, we decided to build our very own domain-specific programming language. It has been designed to accurately recreate clinical reasoning, and has safety built in as an intrinsic feature of the language.

Having this purpose-built language underpinning our platform is the key to ensuring it can reliably deliver safe, consistent patient care at-scale, without the need for human intervention.    

What's your biggest strength?

We’re the first AI-powered physiotherapy solution to be clinically approved by the CQC. Crucially this means we’re not just a “tech provider”; we are an independent healthcare provider, delivering complete treatment pathways directly to patients on behalf of our NHS partners. Every stage of a patient’s treatment - from assessment all the way through to discharge - can be safely handled by our platform, facilitating faster access to care for thousands of patients while freeing up significant capacity for overstretched NHS teams.

What funding do you have? Is it enough?

In July 2022, we raised a £2m seed round, led by Eka Ventures and joined by Form Ventures and angels including Paul Roberts (co-founder at CMR Surgical) and Paul Forster (co-founder at Alongside this funding, we were also awarded an Innovate UK Smart Grant in December 2023, to support us as our solution begins to scale.

What were you doing before?

My co-founder Ric and I met while working at CMR Surgical; we were both early hires in our functions (technology and commercial, respectively). It was a great apprenticeship in building a high-growth medtech company in the UK - between us we experienced the rapid journey from seed to a $3bn valuation and team growth to around 1000 people. After CMR Surgical we each did different things for a year or so. Ric participated in Entrepreneur First and then led engineering at an early-stage climate-tech startup in London. I moved to another surgical robotics company in Switzerland where I ran the spine surgery business unit. We joined forces once more to start Flok together in early 2022, to unlock faster, safer access to automated care for thousands of patients.

What is the future vision?

While our current clinic is focused on back pain, we have much broader ambitions for our technology moving forward. Our ultimate aim is to build the world’s best community healthcare provider. There is no doubt that the pressures facing global healthcare systems will continue to intensify in the coming years. These services need support to meet demand, while tackling existing care backlogs and staff shortages. To provide this support, we plan to scale our solution to help automate more high volume care pathways and unlock clinical capacity for more complex care needs. We’ve already begun expanding our AI clinic to incorporate the assessment and treatment of additional MSK conditions, and are set to launch new automated clinical services later this year.

Written by
BizAge Interview Team
June 5, 2024
Written by
June 5, 2024