ITAC: Hills focuses on interactive tech in acute and aged care

Last month, Hills Health Solutions added an exclusive distribution partnership for the Lincor range of interactive patient care technologies to its existing portfolio of IP and WiFi nurse call systems as part of its strategy to provide integrated solutions that underpin the delivery of care in hospitals and aged care.

It might sound strange to those who have grown up with Hills and its iconic Hoist, but Hills has long been active in the technology and communications sector, particularly in electronic and video security solutions, audio visual technology and communications and mobility.

Following an agreement to sell its steel manufacturing business to Bluescope last year, Hills has set out on a new path to diversify its markets, including a new venture into healthcare with Hills Health Solutions.

For the past 18 months, the company has been scoping the Australian and New Zealand acute and aged care markets and has made some strategic purchases and distribution agreements that now position it as a major player in patient care delivery technologies.

This includes the purchase last year of IP nurse call system specialist Merlon and related company Hospital Television Rentals (HTR), and more recently the purchase of Questek, also a big player in WiFi and analogue nurse call systems, particularly in the aged care market.

Hills has also secured an exclusive distribution agreement with MyLive!y, a range of home monitoring sensors that tracks a person's activity and send alerts if a person does not take their medicine, leaves the house or opens the fridge door.

Hills Health Solutions has now also added Lincor's range to its portfolio, targeting both hospitals and aged care providers with its patient engagement technology, an integrated software and hardware solution that allows for both patient infotainment and the ability to access clinical systems at the bedside.

Head of Hills Health Solutions Peta Jurd said the plan was to become a major player in technologies that enable the delivery of care to hospitals, residential aged care and into the community and home.

“We are not an infrastructure player and we don't at this stage plan to move into the delivery of clinical services,” Ms Jurd said. “We've been very strategic in the targets that we've identified. Merlon and HTR were already partnered in the marketplace and with Questek we've added wireless, so we've now got a very good range of technologies in that space. Our CEO Ted Pretty describes it as putting an electronic blanket over those systems in the hospital.”

Ms Jurd, who has a background in the private hospital sector, said Hills saw an opportunity in the fragmented healthcare market to provide integrated solutions. “If you add to that the great fortune to have a brand like Hills, which people, particularly of an older demographic who are our key customers in healthcare, they have a very great fondness for Hills and it translates into quality and reliability.

“We saw that the timing was right, because of the analogue to digital change. Particularly with Merlon, which has been very successful in having a strong IP solution, we are ahead of some of the others.”

A recent big win for the company was a contract with SA Health to design and build an IP-based nurse call system for the new Royal Adelaide Hospital, which is scheduled to complete construction in 2016. The hospital is expected to see more than 80,000 admissions per year.

The RAH contract will see more than 8500 nurse call devices go into the 800-bed hospital. “This new system is designed for patient comfort and assurance and to empower nurses to provide prompt and effective responses to patients’ calls,” Ms Jurd said. “It will provide critical end user patient safety and staff functions via instantaneous visual and audible alert and messaging.”

Hills is also concentrating on the aged care sector. Like the private hospital sector, residential aged care is going through a period of rationalisation that Hills plans to target with its product range. “What you are getting is rationalisation in those markets and getting larger customers with large portfolios who want to deal with more than a family business,” Ms Jurd said.

“We saw after doing quite extensive due diligence that there were some good quality businesses that were under-capitalised and could benefit from a corporate coming along.

“Questek has been buying a solution from Hills in the security space so what we are doing is leveraging the capability of the technology distribution business of Hills into healthcare. Hills was already selling in excess of $20 million into healthcare through its distribution businesses, but because it has been looked at on a technology basis rather than on a vertical basis that wasn't obvious.

“With the three acquisitions, we have the customer relationships and we have the opportunity to pull through the other solutions that Hills has.”

The two recent distribution agreements with MyLive!y and Lincor were on display at Hills Health Solutions' stand at ITAC this week, signalling the company's emergence as a major player in the aged care market, which is also a target for the Lincor suite.

Ms Jurd said Lincor has been installed in hospitals around the world covering an estimated 30,000 beds, and the Australian and New Zealand markets are prime targets as public hospitals begin to invest in patient infotainment. Hills' home state of South Australia, for example, has rolled out bedside patient infotainment in all of its public hospitals.

What Lincor offers over competitors, Ms Jurd said, is a complete, flexible range of offerings. “You can have the Lincor solutions on a flat screen on the wall, on an arm or on a pole, although that's not the most common way they use it. You can have it ceiling-mounted and you can run it on an iPad.

“The other solution that's very clever is that they have a clinical workstation that has been very popular in the US. As well as having the arm-based solution, which is the most common delivery model, they have a clinical workstation in the corner of the patient's room. That draws the nurses into the patient's room and gets them out of the nurses' station, so you get better one-on-one face time with the nurses.

“They have a very nice clinical dashboard where you can see a range of personal information about the patient and some biometric information, as well as some extracts from the clinical record. All of that is available on the touchscreen. They have a quality product and we are looking to install that with one of the leading hospital and aged care providers at the moment.”

Ms Jurd said Hills was still on the lookout for complementary solutions such as those that streamline clinical workflows as well as RTLS and RFID. “They'd be most likely to be ones that interface in some way to the core solutions that we've bought already,” she said. “These are the enabling solutions that support the delivery of care.”

Hills' first focus was on institutional care with public and private hospitals, aged care and independent living units, but as Ms Jurd says, once you get into ILUs it's only a very small step to community care and care in the home, which is where MyLive!y comes in. “We saw a good product and we thought it fit the market here, and it's an opportunity to get Hills' name in the home other than as a clothesline and alarm provider.”

Hills is also investing in innovation, opening two innovation centres in Adelaide in partnership with the South Australian government and the three SA universities. One of the first products to come out of this will be a new nurse call handset for aged care residents with arthritis or limited dexterity that Hills is developing with the University of SA.

“When you think about it many people who end up in hospital have limited dexterity and we want to make it a little bit easier,” Ms Jurd said. “Our aged care customers are very keen to be involved in trials and have input into the design of that solution so we can improve the experience for the patient.”

While the technology portfolio is aimed at enabling care delivery, there are patient wellness benefits. Lincor's research, for example, shows that interactive patient education can reduce length-of-stay, lower readmission rates and has been shown to improve patient satisfaction.

“There is a lot of research showing that the more educated the patient is, both about what is going to happen to them in surgery but importantly what they need to do once they go home, it translates into better outcomes and lower readmission rates,” Ms Jurd said.

“Being able to have the capability to watch videos about the kinds of exercises that an orthopaedic patient should do once they go home, to have them watching that while they are in the bed recuperating has definitely been shown to improve patient outcomes.”

Posted in Aged Care

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