Dr Ann Shortt: Healthcare budgets need to be proactive, not reactive

25 Sep 2018

Dr Ann Shortt. Image: Full Health Medical

As part of our spotlight on health sciences this week, Dr Ann Shortt tells us how her company aims to improve preventative healthcare.

Dr Ann Shortt is co-founder and medical director of Full Health Medical, a software company that converts complicated lab test results into personalised medical reports.

The idea for the business, which was established in 2011, came from Shortt’s experience with patients who would get test results but would not know what lifetime changes they could implement to prevent illnesses from progressing.

Educated at University College Cork, Shortt amassed years of experience in the medical sector, working in Australia, the UK and various locations in Ireland, before setting up her business with husband Paul McCarthy.

‘It’s very frustrating to be always dealing with the aftermath of cardiovascular events and cancers, knowing full well they could have been prevented if services and patients’ understanding had been better’

Describe your role and what you do.

I am a co-founder and medical director of Full Health Medical. Our mission is to power the future of preventative healthcare. To do this, we have developed a software medical reporting tool to empower patients to understand complex medical data by interpretation, linking medical results with how they impact the individual’s day-to-day life.

I oversee the medical workings of the organisation. I am responsible for designing the algorithms, coordinating the medical consultants and all the general clinical governance aspects.

My job varies from day to day, and from project to project, keeping me on my toes!

How do you prioritise and organise your working life?

It’s a little bit of organised chaos. I still work as an emergency department consultant part-time, so time management has to be completely rigid. I’m a slave to the calendar on my phone. My priorities are always medically driven and ensuring the teams both at the emergency department and at Full Health Medical all have the necessary support to continue to provide the valuable services we offer.

What are the biggest challenges facing your sector and how are you tackling them?

Healthcare budgets are overwhelmingly geared towards sick care and it needs to move towards keeping populations healthy. Budgets are currently spent on more reactionary activity than preventative actions.

But individuals themselves also need to take more personal responsibility for their health. Globally, the population is going to increase by more than 1bn people in the next 10 years, and half of them will be over the age of 50. With people living longer, the incidences of chronic illnesses – such as cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes – will rise beyond sustainable levels for many countries.

A practical example is that there is a real shortage of time in primary care. GPs are very tight on time and some days it’s hard to get through the waiting room, let alone mull over the preventative factors that are going to affect particular patients in 10 years’ time.

Our tools and technology will play a major role in the new type of value-based healthcare model required. This is where we support an environment of good health and prevention. The health system should provide incentives to health providers for this behaviour versus the increased utilisation of even more healthcare services.

Full Health Medical is tackling the challenge in two ways: firstly, by giving health providers better tools to make the delivery of proactive care extremely efficient; and secondly, by giving individuals a clear picture of their health.

What are the key sector opportunities you’re capitalising on?

The good news is that consumers and organisations are driving the modern health and wellness agenda and, because of this growth in popularity, multinationals and insurers are investing in health and wellness. People are striving to be healthier. Slowly, public budgets are moving towards value-based care models where outcomes get rewarded.

The NHS continues to invest in a national NHS Health Check programme aimed at preventing vascular disease. They estimate that, annually, the roll-out costs £322m per year but the return is expected to be in the region of £3.7bn. Closer to home, it’s fantastic to see eHealth Ireland build on the strategy of Sláintecare in extending proactive, predictive and preventative healthcare.

In light of these changes and the support for wellness globally, we created our software with two key audiences in mind. For medical professionals, our software ensures that preventative health can be done safely, and can be clinically very effective, in a fraction of the time it would normally take. Simply put, it saves doctors time and resources. The experience for patients is very different; it is more efficient and much easier to understand.

Lack of time and knowledge are huge barriers to preventative medicine and we have removed them for people with our reporting tools. For medicine generally, it is essential that we use IT to streamline processes and to explain medical results to patients in plain English with personalised written reports, so that we can take the mystery out of medicine for good.

Our next goal is to support the integration of our innovative technology into the wider health system, so that it will deliver pathway enhancements that are measurable, reproducible and scalable.

What set you on the road to where you are now?

We have reached a point in 2018 where up to 80pc of chronic diseases could be avoided but, working as an emergency medicine consultant, you can see that they clearly are not. It’s very frustrating to be always dealing with the aftermath of cardiovascular events and cancers, knowing full well that they could have been prevented if services and patients’ understanding had been better. Patients need to be empowered to take ownership of their own health.

What was your biggest mistake and what did you learn from it?

Everything took twice as long and was three times more expensive than we anticipated. Software and the security associated with medical data was very expensive. If I did it over, I would multiply the expectations around time and money by three, and run with that!

Enterprise Ireland has been a fabulous continuous support and very understanding of the time it takes to transform a challenging ecosystem. They know the jobs are coming!

How do you get the best out of your team?

What we do matters, and not just financially. We have a brilliant dynamic team. They want more than a job – they want to make a positive difference. That’s a big motivation for staff. That said, strong coffee and chocolate have their place.

STEM sectors receive a lot of criticism for a lack of diversity in terms of gender, ethnicity and other demographics. Have you noticed a diversity problem in your sector? What are your thoughts on this and what’s needed to be more inclusive?

Medicine is already very multicultural, and inclusive of gender and all ages. The medical IT sector could use more doctors in it. I see a lot of start-ups and online activity in the medical space with no involvement at all from qualified medics.

Who is your role model and why?

Barack Obama for his clarity of communication and inspiration, and Maura Kelly (RIP), the former postmistress in our village, for her business acumen and her fighting spirit.

What books have you read that you would recommend?

Freakonomics afforded me great clarity on how the world works. Medicine shelters you for a while as the people in it aren’t all about money, but the business world can be a little different!

What are the essential tools and resources that get you through the working week?

Coffee, phone and calendar … in that order.

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