Pfizer’s play for ResApp a sign of the times

ASX-listed ResApp Health has been making some pretty big moves and pretty big claims in the last year or so for its respiratory health software apps, so it was no real surprise that a Big Pharma company has been sniffing around. What is a bit surprising in Pfizer’s bid for the Brisbane firm is the size of its offer, which values the company at $100 million.

ResApp has been around for quite a few years, having been founded in 2014 to commercialise technology developed by University of Queensland biomedical engineer Udantha Abeyratne. It officially listed on the ASX in 2015 through a reverse listing with the former Narhex Life Sciences, and since then has run some pretty impressive trials, in particular at Joondalup Health Campus in WA, into using the technology for remote diagnosis of COPD, asthma and pneumonia through artificial intelligence analysis of cough sounds. It also has a sleep apnoea app called SleepCheck that is going great guns.

ResApp was eyeing off telehealth as a market for its diagnostic back in 2015, and since then has announced agreements with Medgate in Europe, Alodokter in Indonesia, Homify in the Philippines, and Doctors on Demand, Phenix Health and Coviu in Australia. It is working on a COPD diagnostic for Indigenous people, is making moves into the aged care sector with an agreement with local start-up Health Teams, an aged care patient monitoring platform, and it also has a deal with HealthEngine for SleepCheck.

Things got really interesting for ResApp with the pandemic, and just last month it announced some good results for early screening for COVID-19 as an adjunct to to RAT and PCR testing. That claim raised a few eyebrows but Pfizer is obviously convinced. While $100m is a drop in the bucket for the pharma giant, it is a substantial enough sum for a small Australian diagnostic app developer. There is a saying in the start-up community that there is silly money available on the ASX at the moment, which is why some overseas companies have listed, but this one seems to be the real deal.

In other news, Melbourne’s Royal Children’s Hospital has added to its significant list of achievements in digital health with revalidation by the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) of its Stage 6 ranking for its inpatient electronic medical record adoption and Stage 7 for its outpatients score. Accompanying it this time were the other three hospitals in the Parkville precinct – Royal Melbourne, Royal Women’s and Peter Mac – all of which have adopted RCH’s EMR implementation blueprint and all of which went live with an Epic EMR in 2020 at the height of the pandemic.

Despite misgivings about the wisdom of this, including our own, the three hospitals managed to achieve Stage 6 for both EMRAM and O-EMRAM. That is the highest level they can achieve on the first go, and they managed not only to do it during the pandemic, but the assessment itself was done virtually. Congratulations to all involved, particularly project lead Professor Mike South, who has now successfully led 11 such evaluations in addition to his day job as a paediatrician and intensivist at RCH.

They join St Stephen’s Hervey Bay, a small private hospital, and Brisbane’s Princess Alexandra, a large public hospital, which both use a Cerner system. We hear that the ACT is keen to go for accreditation soon after its new Epic system goes live later this year, although NSW Health seems strangely reluctant to give it a go for any of its Cerner hospitals. According to Professor South, HIMSS appears to be changing its model to take more account of the outcomes of digital adoption for patient safety and clinician satisfaction in future, so perhaps they might reconsider. While Professor South admits the process is taxing, he believes it is very helpful in benchmarking against other hospitals and finding those areas where more work needs to be done.

And finally this week, we were perusing the results of a survey carried out as part of a research project into gender diversity in Australia’s digital health sector, involving Telstra Health, the Australasian Institute of Digital Health (AIDH), the Digital Health Cooperative Research Centre (DHCRC) and the CSIRO’s Australian e-Health Research Centre (AeHRC).

The results were quite illuminating, but they very much did reflect the general consensus that digital health is one of the few areas of the wider ICT industry that has always had a pretty reasonable level of gender equity, all things considered. The report is worth taking a look at, if you have time.

What we were struck with more than anything was the nice amount of shade the report’s authors brought to a comment by a male respondent.

“All companies I have worked in equally assess men and women,” he opined. “They give equal opportunities to men and women to prove themselves, get hired, and progress forward. In fact, women get more advantage in companies as compared to men. They get promotions more speedily, and they climb the company's ladder more quickly than men. This is unfair and that's why progress is needed. Women, by nature, prefer to take arts subjects over STEM. But today's society promotes them to take STEM and prefers them over men even if women have less skills in STEM. I mean, a woman who has less STEM skills gets preferred over a man who has more skills, experience, vision and abilities.”

The report’s authors’ succinct response? “This is not mentioned by any women.”

That brings us to our poll for this week:

Do you think women get a fair go in digital health compared to other technology sectors?

Vote here or leave your comments below.

In our last poll, we asked if voluntary patient registration heralded the end of publicly funded telehealth in Australian primary care. We received a range of strong opinions – see here – with 60 per cent of votes saying yes, and 40 per cent saying no.

Comments  

0 # Kate McDonald 2022-04-29 15:13
We got far fewer votes than normal on this question, so either this issue is not seen as a big deal in the industry, or our question wasn’t framed well. Either way, 60 per cent said yes, and 40 per cent said no.

Here’s what you said:

- It’s all about good ideas and execution, not gender.

- There are more women in heathcare than in many other sectors and we get a strong flow of people from other professions (eg clinical) into digital roles. This naturally means there is a larger pool and as more women get into senior roles we are fairer about our hiring processes and men who aren't comfortable working for women are less likely to apply.
Historically paid less and less opportunity in tech, regardless of whether it’s digital health. But I hope that because women are represented more in health that we will see this come through in time.

- A lot of nurses are moved sideways into IT when there can no longer manage the physical aspects of nursing. The majority of nurses are women, so lots of women move into Digital roles.

- Under 3% investment funding goes to women led digital health companies

- Health historically has a high population of female workers so it stands to reason that equality is not an issue

- I work in Digital Health. Where I work, the focus is on the skills needed to do the job, not the person. By virtue of this, the composition of the broader organisation is reflective of society / population.

- It seems to be equally bad for all technology sectors - I haven't noticed digital health being especially worse and I can't think why it would be.

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