Just the medicine for Ireland’s ailing health system?

24 Jul 2008

Employing 100 people, Helix Health was formed following the merger of two medical software companies, Medicom and Systems Solutions, and is planning to expand to the US. Howard Beggs is the company’s chief executive.

The deficiencies in the Irish health system can at best be described as notorious. What are the root causes of this?

You have to appreciate the nature of information in the health sector is fragmented and there are too many reservoirs of information.

The more recent primary care strategy seems to be working. Where you once had 10 or more fragmented practices, you now have a large well-equipped health centre, so we’re moving towards a mini-hospital environment.

You will see the emergence of a lot more services where instead of being constantly referred, you will deal with one place that has doctors and consultants providing an infrastructure where summarised patient care records will be a reality. This will be a life-saving technology. Ireland is on the cusp of delivering that now.

Electronic prescriptions and smart cards with all your medical information are the norm in other countries. When will this be available in Ireland?

Across Ireland we have more than 10,000 medical professionals already using software to manage prescriptions and deliver them electronically. The different pieces of the jigsaw are coming together and getting them together is what Helix Healthcare is focused on.

Communications with doctors out-of-hours is available today. But the worrying thing for patients is how the system uses their information. For example, if a doctor takes a patient’s bloods, traditionally the patient had to wait weeks to get that information. Now, this information is connected electronically to doctors’ surgeries to enable better co-operation and cut down on waiting, as well as eliminating mistakes.

How has the internet improved the way doctors and pharmacists work?

The country has a long way to go infrastructure-wise. Broadband and access to the internet has already facilitated major advances, such as getting access to lab messages as a web service for doctors or enabling pharmacies to do faster claims transitions.

But there are still parts of the country where these professionals are isolated in terms of connectivity and this situation needs to change.

In recent weeks, you revealed plans to sponsor a student at the Royal College of Surgeons to develop an e-learning package for pharmacists. What will this achieve?

The project was instigated by the student – Carmel Flynn – herself and it caught our eye as something that showed foresight and recognised the next generation of highly computer-literate pharmacists.

Historically, medical students would have been familiar with our software before they entered the working world. But what this does is it recognises the Facebook generation, who are much more computer literate and amenable to learning going forward for continuous professional development. It’s exciting and a first for Ireland in the pharmacy sector.

What was the reasoning behind the merger of two very prominent Irish software companies?

Helix Health was formed in 2006 following the merger of two of Ireland’s largest providers of healthcare to pharmacies and GPs. Both were considered by Enterprise Ireland to be highly scalable companies but to really get to the next level of growth it made sense to merge.

Both companies worked in parallel markets – pharmacy automation and doctor automation – so the logic of putting them together meant we had the majority market share of GPs and pharmacists across the country.

What are your plans for international expansion?

At the moment, 60pc of our revenues would come from GPs and 70pc from pharmacies in Ireland and we’ve captured 12.5pc of the UK market.

We’ve expanded into Germany and other central European countries but the big plan is to spearhead a launch into the lucrative west coast US market.

We’re working with Enterprise Ireland to establish an indirect channel in the US market through strategic resellers. At the moment, we’re localising our technology to suit the US and are looking at pilot sites to prove the technology works.

By John Kennedy

Pictured: Howard Beggs, chief executive, Helix Health

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years