Hills gives it another go at health

It came as a bit of a surprise this week to see that Hills Ltd, formerly of hoist fame and for some time now a player in nurse call, patient infotainment and security IT solutions, had taken a majority share in Extensia, the small Brisbane firm that developed the RecordPoint shared care record. We haven’t heard from Extensia in years and thought they’d gone out of business, but up they popped in an industry survey on Tuesday as a case study for medical software’s value during the COVID pandemic in Australia.

Hills actually took the stake back in November 2021 but is only promoting it publicly now, new Hills CEO David Clarke tells us. The move is part of a renewed focus on the health sector for Hills, which is planning to divest itself of the security IT business, its most profitable asset. Hills has some quality contracts for its patient infotainment, hospital TV and nurse call systems in both hospitals and aged care, as well as a distribution agreement with US firm GetWell for its patient engagement products, but clinical software is a new venture for the company. The company has also cleared two long-standing, multi-million dollar legal actions against it, one dismissed by the Federal Court and the other resolved to everyone’s mutual relief.

Hills had a similar albeit much more ambitious go at the health sector eight years ago, when former Telstra managing director Ted Pretty was brought in to restructure the company, in the process flogging off the clothes lines and the company’s heavy manufacturing arm. The restructure didn’t go too well, it must be said, although Hills has very much been a going concern since then. It has now under new management and a new board, and Mr Clarke says he’s keen on more strategic acquisitions.

Extensia is an interesting one, not the least because it has very few customers and has never been a major player in shared care records. It has been around for yonks – it was prominent back in the pre-NeHTA days in Brisbane, and hopes were held out by its founders that it would be used for what eventually became the PCEHR/My Health Record. Mr Clarke told us that the environment had changed, particularly in aged and community care, and there was now an obvious need for a privacy-by-design system to plug the gaps between the various siloed systems.

While not looking to do what Telstra Health has done, Hills appears to be joining other companies conglomerating small businesses with niche functionalities to offer a range of capabilities to the booming health and aged care markets. Others include Citadel Group and Constellation Software, and on a much smaller level Clanwilliam Group, of which Pulse+IT is a part. Interesting times. We wish everyone good luck.

It has certainly been a big week for health IT business goings-on, including the news that Lyniate, the new name for the owner of the Rhapsody integration engine first developed by Orion Health, is merging with EMPI provider NextGate. The assets of the new company are widely used in Australia and New Zealand and we’ll watch the new entity’s progress with interest.

One of our most-read stories this week was the news that the Gold Coast Primary Health Network, which has been developing its own data extraction tool called Primary Sense for the past five years, is planning to prioritise installations of it over PenCS’s tool, which is used by the majority of PHNs for PIP QI purposes. We hear that a number of PHNs are thinking of swapping over from Pen to Primary Sense or Primary Sense 2, which the WA Primary Health Alliance is leading the development of.

There is an almighty battle being fought out of the public eye over this, on the one side commercial interests that have long served their markets well versus publicly funded organisations that many don’t think have a role in software development but which are frustrated by the limitations – and licence fees – of the commercial offerings. This is a story to keep an eye on.

We have polled readers in the past whether they thought PHNs should be involved in commercial software development. Most said no.

This week, we ask:

Will Hills succeed with its new healthcare-focused corporate strategy?

Vote here or leave your comments below.

Last week, we asked: Have IT solutions like cloud-based records and My Health Record helped in disaster or pandemic situations? Readers were split 50:50.

We also asked what practical experiences you had. Here’s what you said.


0 # Kate McDonald 2022-03-25 15:37
Will Hills succeed with its new healthcare-focu sed corporate strategy? It was a close-run thing: 44 per cent said no, 56 per cent said yes. But we also asked what you thought of its chances for success and why: here’s what you said.

- Zero, they cannot execute strategy

- Hills has a good possibility of succeeding particularly under the patronage of Clarke/Chambers and Co who know their stuff with strong Health IT pedigree. Connectivity between Primary Care and Aged Care/Supported Living and small mid size Clinics and Hospitals who remain poorly served by care planning tools and interoperabilit y. Record Point already has established connectivity with Best Practice, Medical Director and Genie. Hills can leverage their established and sizeable client base with Nurse Call and Patient Entertainment together with the innovative Get Well technology and extend from that base quite readily with the right execution.

- They have demonstrated tech success via their chairman David Chambers, board member, Janet Muir (MD, Audika - Aust & NZ), CEO David Clarke, and CFO Natalie Scott.

- Their current offerings are technically terrible and I am surprised they have customers, their tech is so old

- Because it isn't healthcare focused, it's IT focused.

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