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Volpara Health Technologies is an ASX-listed company that says it has a simple purpose: ‘to save families from cancer’. The technology is used by healthcare providers around the world to understand cancer risk, and uses AI to improve medical imaging, particularly when it comes to detecting breast cancer.

Teri Thomas, CEO of Volpara Health, tells Sean Aylmer about Volpara’s growth in the United States, and why the AI has been a revolution for medical technology.

Find out more: https://fearandgreed.com.au

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Sean Aylmer: Welcome to the Fear and Greed Business Interview. I’m Sean

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Sean Aylmer: Aylmer. We talk about technology quite a lot on Fear

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Sean Aylmer: and Greed, but the stories I like most are the

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Sean Aylmer: ones about companies using technology to make a difference. I

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Sean Aylmer: think this one falls into that category. Volpara Health Technologies

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Sean Aylmer: is an ASX listed company that says it has a

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Sean Aylmer: simple purpose: to save families from cancer. The technology is

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Sean Aylmer: used by healthcare providers around the world to understand cancer

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Sean Aylmer: risk and uses AI to improve medical imaging, particularly when

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Sean Aylmer: it comes to detecting breast cancer. Teri Thomas is the

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Sean Aylmer: Chief Executive Officer of Volpara Health. Teri, welcome to Fear

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Sean Aylmer: and Greed.

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Teri Thomas: Thank you.

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Sean Aylmer: So tell me about the technology. What exactly does Volpara do?

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Teri Thomas: I’m glad that you asked because sometimes people are a

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Teri Thomas: little bit confused. If they go for a mammogram and

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Teri Thomas: they see these big machines and they don’t see Volpara’s

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Teri Thomas: name on it, they wonder, well, what in the world

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Teri Thomas: does Volpara do to save families from cancer? So breast

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Teri Thomas: cancer is our focus, although we cover other types of

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Teri Thomas: cancer and we are a technology company. We don’t create

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Teri Thomas: any machinery. We don’t produce any hardware. We are strict technology. However,

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Teri Thomas: we use technology in three different main areas. The first

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Teri Thomas: area is identifying who is at risk of developing breast

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Teri Thomas: and other cancers. A lot of people think that breast

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Teri Thomas: cancer is heavily hereditary. And in some cases, about 10%,

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Teri Thomas: it is. But many cases, there are lots of other

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Teri Thomas: factors that determine someone’s odds of getting cancer. So we

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Teri Thomas: have several different algorithms and we harvest information from electronic

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Teri Thomas: medical records or from our portal and calculate out someone’s

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Teri Thomas: lifetime risk of carrying genes that might predispose them to

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Teri Thomas: cancer or other kinds of ways that they might be

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Teri Thomas: at risk for cancer. The second main thing we do

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Teri Thomas: is we manage a whole lot about the operations in

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Teri Thomas: a mammography center. So managing getting the patient into the room,

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Teri Thomas: what the technologist puts in about the patient, gathering the

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Teri Thomas: information from the machinery, the PAC (Programmable Automation Controller) systems together with our AI,

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Teri Thomas: assessing the quality of the images when someone gets a mammogram,

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Teri Thomas: which many people don’t know is actually a type of x-ray,

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Teri Thomas: and serving that information in a comprehensive way and a quick

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Teri Thomas: way for a radiologist to be able to then report

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Teri Thomas: back to the primary care doctor or the referring physician,

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Teri Thomas: the results of that mammogram. By the way, we also

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Teri Thomas: automate a whole lot of reporting in a very highly

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Teri Thomas: regulated area, so we save a lot of time by

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Teri Thomas: pulling together information and sending it to the governing bodies.

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Teri Thomas: But the other big area is related to breast density.

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Teri Thomas: So we apply our AI on the images of a mammogram.

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Teri Thomas: We assess everything about that image. Was it done correctly?

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Teri Thomas: Was the compression done right? Was the machinery working right?

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Teri Thomas: Was it positioned right? And then we actually analyse at

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Teri Thomas: a 3D level the tissue of that breast to calculate

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Teri Thomas: an objective measurement of the density of that breast. Very

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Teri Thomas: fatty breasts, low density, you can’t tell by looking at

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Teri Thomas: it or squeezing it, but you can tell from looking

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Teri Thomas: at a mammogram, those are lower risk of cancer, but

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Teri Thomas: also much easier to find cancer on those types of breasts.

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Teri Thomas: Whereas very dense breasts show up on a mammogram as

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Teri Thomas: almost white or lots of gray that can hide cancer

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Teri Thomas: but it’s also a risk factor. In fact, the most

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Teri Thomas: significant risk factor for breast cancer. So that’s what we do.

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Sean Aylmer: Okay. There’s a lot in all that. A few things

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Sean Aylmer: I want to focus on. One is the fact that

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Sean Aylmer: you obviously work with a lot of third parties or stakeholders,

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Sean Aylmer: how that goes. The second is in terms of the

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Sean Aylmer: mammograms and the use of technology to, I think I’m

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Sean Aylmer: right in saying it, Teri, to better improve results effectively.

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Sean Aylmer: But let’s come to that in a moment. How do

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Sean Aylmer: you work? I mean, I remember someone asking Alan Greenspan

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Sean Aylmer: many years ago, the former US Federal Reserve, how they’re

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Sean Aylmer: ever going to solve the health crisis and the blowout

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Sean Aylmer: and costs, and he said “Technology will do it.” His

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Sean Aylmer: point being, if you can get kind of health providers

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Sean Aylmer: to work together and use technology, you can make huge

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Sean Aylmer: leaps forward. That’s kind of what you’re trying to do

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Sean Aylmer: but from a disparate group of people.

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Teri Thomas: Yes, it’s interesting. I as CEO, love to spend time

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Teri Thomas: with customers and as much as I can. Many of

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Teri Thomas: our customers are in the United States, most of them.

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Teri Thomas: And whenever I go to the US, I make sure

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Teri Thomas: to visit as many customers as possible. And 100% of

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Teri Thomas: our customers tell me this is a consistent answer. When

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Teri Thomas: I say, ” What’s your biggest problem?” They all say ” Time.

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Teri Thomas: We don’t have enough time to be able to catch

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Teri Thomas: up from COVID to get all of the women through.

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Teri Thomas: We don’t have enough radiologists to read all of the

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Teri Thomas: images. We don’t have enough technologists. So we really, really

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Teri Thomas: struggle with time.” So as a technology company leveraging AI,

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Teri Thomas: leveraging ways to speed up workflows, the key thing for

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Teri Thomas: us is can we free up time to allow a

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Teri Thomas: radiologist to focus on what they’re trained to do, which

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Teri Thomas: is look at the natty scary images in the middle,

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Teri Thomas: and can we reduce the administrative overhead so that people

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Teri Thomas: can use their precious time to be able to get

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Teri Thomas: those patients through. So for us, that’s why we exist.

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Sean Aylmer: I suppose my question is, are the providers all happy

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Sean Aylmer: to share their information with you?

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Teri Thomas: They are. You asked about partnerships as well. We work

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Teri Thomas: with all of the mammography manufacturers. There are 38 of

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Teri Thomas: them out there, and we actually ingest their images. We

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Teri Thomas: work with Microsoft Azure as our base, and so we

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Teri Thomas: upload those images and analyze those images and provide insights.

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Teri Thomas: And again, I don’t think they would be willing to

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Teri Thomas: do it if number one, we weren’t providing value. But

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Teri Thomas: number two, a big differentiator for us is a very,

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Teri Thomas: very strong information security infrastructure. So we pass some very,

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Teri Thomas: very rigorous security standards, and that creates enough trust that

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Teri Thomas: our customers will enable us to be really a partner

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Teri Thomas: with them in the room.

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Sean Aylmer: Stay with me, Teri. We’ll be back in a minute.

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Sean Aylmer: I am speaking to Teri Thomas, CEO of Volpara Health

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Sean Aylmer: Technologies. What about artificial intelligence? You’ve mentioned it a couple

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Sean Aylmer: of times and the use of AI. How far has

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Sean Aylmer: the technology come in recent years, and will it go

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Sean Aylmer: in the next couple of years because of this revolution

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Sean Aylmer: for want of a better term in AI?

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Teri Thomas: I think revolution is absolutely the spot on correct term,

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Teri Thomas: and I think we’ve just begun to scratch the surface

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Teri Thomas: of what we can do with AI. And Volpara does

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Teri Thomas: some amazing things right now, but I’m quite excited about

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Teri Thomas: the future. As I mentioned, I just came back from

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Teri Thomas: meeting at Microsoft and the theme for sure from Satya

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Teri Thomas: Nadella was AI is where Microsoft is putting their bets.

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Teri Thomas: He actually shared that AI will create a hundred trillion

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Teri Thomas: GDP in terms of the impact of where this is going.

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Teri Thomas: We’ve worked with Microsoft side by side with some of

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Teri Thomas: their engineers on developing new AI algorithms. For example, many

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Teri Thomas: people don’t know when you get a mammogram and we’re

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Teri Thomas: looking for cancer. When you do the deep image analysis

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Teri Thomas: that we do, we can actually look at each of

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Teri Thomas: the arteries that feeds the heart and the coronary arteries

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Teri Thomas: when they get calcium building up on the sides, that’s

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Teri Thomas: actually a risk factor for heart disease. And heart disease,

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Teri Thomas: heart attacks in particular kill far more women than breast cancer,

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Teri Thomas: and oftentimes strike without warning. A lot of women don’t

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Teri Thomas: realise that they’ve actually got problems with their heart as

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Teri Thomas: they go about their daily business until they have a

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Teri Thomas: heart attack. So for us, leveraging the power of AI

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Teri Thomas: and that analysis of those images to actually, as a

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Teri Thomas: byproduct of watching for cancer, to send someone to the

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Teri Thomas: cardiologist and potentially alert them that they might need to

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Teri Thomas: go on a statin or some other preventative situation so

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Teri Thomas: they don’t have a heart attack is one example of

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Teri Thomas: new AI. But there will be so many more, speeding

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Teri Thomas: up workflows with generative AI, going through and figuring out

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Teri Thomas: what most likely is going to be the analysis of

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Teri Thomas: this image for a radiologist to simply review and approve

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Teri Thomas: versus generate themselves. It’s speeding things up in every other

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Teri Thomas: industry and healthcare will be no different.

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Sean Aylmer: You mentioned Microsoft, and you’ve been there recently. You recently

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Sean Aylmer: won the Microsoft Global Healthcare and Life Sciences Award, thousands

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Sean Aylmer: of nominations from about 100 countries. Nice work, Teri. What’s it

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Sean Aylmer: mean for you?

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Teri Thomas: Boy, I was delighted and surprised to actually be invited

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Teri Thomas: to present about Volpara live at their Inspire conference just

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Teri Thomas: before Satya Nadella did his keynote. And so at one

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Teri Thomas: level, that was beautiful exposure for a company that’s known

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Teri Thomas: within the mammography circles, but in many cases in healthcare

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Teri Thomas: outside of mammography, an unknown name. And in fact, I

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Teri Thomas: didn’t know about Volpara three years ago because it focuses

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Teri Thomas: on this one area. But as a company, we are

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Teri Thomas: breaking out of mammography. We do cover other areas besides

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Teri Thomas: breast. We cover other cancers besides breast cancer. We’ve got

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Teri Thomas: a grant from New Zealand Trade and Enterprise to do

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Teri Thomas: some modeling of expanding to employers, to insurers. We want

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Teri Thomas: to get every woman starting at age 25 to understand

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Teri Thomas: her own personal risk of cancer, breast and others, and

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Teri Thomas: have a personal plan to prevent cancer instead of just

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Teri Thomas: early detection. So the relationship with Microsoft and the awards

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Teri Thomas: gave us some nice exposure. However, we do look forward

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Teri Thomas: to working with them as a partner on new models

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Teri Thomas: and even things like bringing risk into Australia.

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Sean Aylmer: We’re sort of running out of time, but I just

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Sean Aylmer: mean your view on the outlook for Volpara, the US

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Sean Aylmer: government recently, the Food and Drug Administration made it mandatory

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Sean Aylmer: to notify women of their breast density. Does that change

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Sean Aylmer: the outlook for you guys?

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Teri Thomas: There are numerous tailwinds that are great for us. That’s

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Teri Thomas: one of them. And it does validate the work that

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Teri Thomas: we do in the United States, but it’s also something

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Teri Thomas: that people are looking at internationally. So we noticed that

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Teri Thomas: shortly after the FDA ruling I-MED in Australia made their

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Teri Thomas: stance that they will inform women in Australia of their

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Teri Thomas: breast density. And we’re looking at, I’m going to be

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Teri Thomas: spending the month of September in Europe. There’s a lot

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Teri Thomas: of buzz within Europe, country by country, will they follow

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Teri Thomas: suit with what they’re doing in the United States? But

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Teri Thomas: that actually comes together with the United States Preventative Services

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Teri Thomas: Task Force, who’s now suggesting that people get mammograms at

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Teri Thomas: age 40 instead of age 50, The American College of

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Teri Thomas: Radiology publishing new guidelines, asking for risk assessment starting at

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Teri Thomas: age 25, and the National Accreditation Program for Breast Centers

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Teri Thomas: in the US actually requiring for accreditation that a risk

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Teri Thomas: assessment be done on all of their women. So when

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Teri Thomas: you add these things up, and I’m going to put

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Teri Thomas: it together with one thing that shocked me on my

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Teri Thomas: last trip, which is another national 10 time Emmy award winner,

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Teri Thomas: Jill Martin, she’s a journalist, opened up last week to

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Teri Thomas: the nation about her breast cancer diagnosis. But with a

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Teri Thomas: message about each woman needs to understand her risk and

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Teri Thomas: ideally get genetic testing early. These things are really strong

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Teri Thomas: supports for us to continue our growth and continuing our

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Teri Thomas: march to profitability.

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Sean Aylmer: Teri, thank you for talking to Fear and Greed.

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Teri Thomas: You’re welcome.

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Sean Aylmer: That was Teri Thomas, Chief Executive Officer of Volpara Health

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Sean Aylmer: Technologies. This is the Fear and Greed Business interview. Join

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Sean Aylmer: us every morning for the full episode of Fear and

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Sean Aylmer: Greed, Australia’s best business podcast. I’m Sean Aylmer. Enjoy your day.