Cecilia Robinson: Building Healthcare That Works For All Kiwis

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24 August 2023

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Entrepreneurship is in Cecilia Robinson’s blood. You’ve only got to see what she’s doing with the primary healthcare start-up Tend, or the success of her other two creations My Food Bag and Au Pair Link to understand that.

But business is not Cecilia’s only priority, alongside being co-CEOs of Tend, Cecilia and her equally entrepreneurial husband, James, are parents of three – Tom, Leila, and Charlie. 

“I always say My Food Bag and Tom, my eldest, are essentially twins. I finished the business plan late on Thursday, August 9th 2012, and by midnight that night I had gone into labour,” says Cecilia.

When they stepped down from My Food Bag in 2018, James and Cecilia were going to retire and focus solely on their family and mentoring others in business.

“We’d faced some huge personal challenges and really wanted to focus on Tom and Leila – but we quickly realised that we weren’t done, so we set our sights on the next problem that needed solving.”

Cecilia and James experienced the intricacies of the healthcare system when they heartbreakingly had a stillborn and lost a second pregnancy at 17 weeks. As they experienced the difficulty of accessing healthcare with their family, they knew healthcare was the challenge they needed to address.  

And so the vision of Tend was born. Alongside co-Founders Dr Mataroria Lyndon and Josh Robb, James and Cecilia set to make the healthcare experience better for all Kiwis. Tend’s service is to provide online and in-person full-service primary care via an app, where people can easily manage their own healthcare. 

Soon after launching Tend, Cecilia became pregnant, and a year after its launch Charlie was born happy and healthy. This was in the middle of lockdown, which meant once again Cecilia got to understand first-hand the pain points Kiwis face with healthcare during challenging times.

Understanding healthcare is about more than just experiencing the health system first-hand, it’s also about knowing that everyone’s experience with healthcare is unique. Tend wants to make sure it’s offering innovative services that actually make a difference for everyday Kiwis.

Cecilia Robinson

“We really want to know our customers, and make sure we know how healthcare works for them. So, we undertook consumer research prior to our launch to make sure we understood exactly how we could tailor our offering to suit the needs of as many people as possible.

“Three years on and a lot has changed in the world, so we’ve done research again. We are no longer in the thick of a pandemic and people’s perceptions of healthcare have evolved hugely.”

Amongst its findings, the Tend Health Index showed 19% of respondents (equating to nearly a million people) either don’t have, or don’t know they have, a GP. 

Of these people, almost a third (32%) said they would like a primary care provider, but are yet to find one that meets their needs.

This contradicts Ministry of Health data, which states 90% of the population is enrolled with a Primary Health Organisation (PHO). This variation between reported and actual data suggests people either don’t know they’re enrolled at all, or they feel they don’t have a relationship with a GP (despite being enrolled).

“The variation between what people told us and the actual statistics was incredibly revealing. It shows that despite the incredible work our GPs do, there’s a disconnect in the system causing far too many Kiwis to miss out.

“If we have any hope of reducing healthcare pressures across the board, we need to provide primary care options that suit everyone – and we need to make these options known. We need to, and we can, rewire how primary care operates so these million people can get access to the care they need.”

This is where Tend steps in. Within its app patients can book in-person and online appointments with a GP or nurse, or services including immunisations, contraception consultations, medical certificates, mental health consultations, screenings and more for themselves or their children. 

During Covid telehealth became a necessity, speeding up Tend’s launch. It also meant other primary care providers quickly adopted phone and video consultations. However, this trend didn’t stick, with many now returning to offering in-person care only. 

But consumers are warming up to telehealth, with more than half (54.3%) of respondents comfortable with telehealth consultations. 

“Given the research showed us that there are nearly a million people not interacting with a GP you’ve got to assume much of this comes down to not having easy access to healthcare.

“While we initially thought Tend’s model would be primarily online, we quickly realised that a hybrid model suited people best. This is why we prioritise our in-person care options and are actively expanding these around the country.”

The survey showed four out of five Kiwis were happy with their doctor (80%), which Cecilia says is testament to the amount of dedication and care GPs put into their work.

Of those who said they were unhappy with their GP, 42% said they can’t get an appointment at the time they want and nearly 40% were put off by how long they sit in the waiting room, both problems that Tend’s model addresses.

Cecilia and James plan to dedicate the rest of their working lives to Tend. Improving healthcare isn’t something that happens overnight, and they believe we need primary care options that cater to everyone.

“Tend is where we are meant to be. It’s solving problems that we know need to be addressed, and through it, we can make a positive difference for future generations and our own children. In 10 years’ time I hope to look back and reflect on how healthcare has changed for the better.” 

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