Telstra buys aged care market leader iCareHealth

Telstra Health has added another software vendor to its growing healthcare portfolio, acquiring the aged care market-leading firm iCareHealth.

Telstra Health has bought the company outright, with the Australian arm to become part of Telstra and the UK arm to separate, iCareHealth's managing director Chris Gray said.

iCareHealth bought UK community care specialist h.e.t Software in 2012, allowing it to offer a single person electronic health record that accommodates the entire continuum from community care to residential aged care.

Mr Gray said becoming part of Telstra Health would provide the company with unrivalled scale and stability as aged care moved to the new consumer-directed care (CDC) model.

“Telstra's vision for a connected eHealth system for all Australians is the thing that really attracted us to becoming part of their vision,” Mr Gray said.

“With aged care it's not a short stay like it is in hospital, so recording that information, whether you go into residential aged care or in your own home, I think that's one of the critical things that needs to happen and will make greater efficiencies as we age as a nation.”

Telstra Health managing director Shane Solomon said Telstra's aim was to create an integrated eHealth ecosystem and aged care was a crucial part of that.

“Strategically, we see a lot of connectivity issues in aged care and we think having a strong presence in residential aged care will help with those,” Mr Solomon said.

“For example, people going into aged care these days are very complex – in years gone by they would have been in hospital – so they often come out of hospital with their medications changed and there is a high degree of confusion about whether they should stay on those medications.

“We think that the foundation that iCareHealth gives will enable us to help with some of the pain points, with isolation and the disconnect between residential aged care and other parts of the system.”

iCareHealth's management team and staff will all make the move over to Telstra but will be able to continue to work autonomously, Mr Solomon said. “We met up with Chris soon after we started Telstra Health and we were really impressed with the company. [It is] very professional, systematically going about understanding what the needs of their customers were.

“It very much fitted our profile of building our capability ... but strategically, it's about residential aged care. It's a big part of the ecosystem and while Chris and the team will get on very autonomously, doing what they do best, we think we can add some new solutions that are not yet there in the marketplace.”

This is not just limited to the big move Telstra is making in telehealth through its new ReadyCare business, Mr Solomon said. Telstra will also bring other parts of its portfolio, including Fred IT in pharmacy and Verdi in hospitals, as well as its new investment in Orion Health, into the mix.

One of the key areas of focus will be on medications management, with Telstra hoping to develop solutions that link GPs, geriatricians, hospitals and community pharmacy to residential and community aged care.

“iCareHealth is dominant in the market in the area of medication management within residential aged care, so there is tremendous value if we can build on Fred IT and integrate with hospital information through Verdi and with Orion, to move towards an integrated medication record,” Mr Solomon said.

“That will make it much easier for residential aged care to be able to update medication when people come out of hospital, easier for GPs and geriatricians because they'll at least be able to say comprehensively what medication they are on, and we think it can be done much more efficiently.

“It's not just telehealth; it's about the integrated record between residential aged care and hospitals.”

While he would not be drawn on the specifics, Mr Solomon said Telstra Health and Orion Health planned to work together on eHealth initiatives, particularly in medications management.

“The whole area of medication management, including hospitals, we are deeply interested in,” he said. “Even with eRx, there is only 0.1 per cent of eRx prescriptions within the PCEHR, so that value is still locked up and not available for anyone to look at. We think there is potential here.”

Mr Gray said aged care was a growth area in both the residential and community settings. Aged care providers are consolidating and getting bigger, as evidenced by moves by private providers like Jepara and Regis to list on the stock exchange, and not-for-profits such as Villa Maria and Catholic Homes merging services in Victoria.

“With aged care in the past you would have gone into a facility but because of the changing models of care and use of technology you are going to stay in your own home longer,” Mr Gray said.

“There is significant growth in community care because people are staying in their own home longer but with more complex healthcare issues than ever before, so technology plays a key role in helping to deliver safe, high-quality care to people in their own home.”

Mr Solomon said the acquisition will open the opportunity to provide an integrated community and residential aged care offering to those big organisations but also for smaller players that don't have the resources to deal with contractual arrangements with multiple vendors.

“I think there is the potential to offer them a much more integrated clinical management system that crosses their whole business,” he said.

The iCareHealth purchase means Telstra Health now has a technology footprint in almost all sectors of the healthcare industry, barring an outright purchase of a general practice software package. Mr Solomon would not be drawn on his plans to acquire one of those vendors, but said there were obvious areas were Telstra could play a part.

“There are multiple options and one of those is buying space on the desktop,” he said. “It is pretty much established practice now that all of the GP software vendors will give you space and that is an option.

“But our interest is about connectivity and one of the issues for the GP desktop is that apart from eRx it is pretty much a self-contained thing.

“Our deeper interest is how we can, for instance, improve referral systems and that involves a cloud approach, it involves connecting multiple providers, and GPs are one of them.”

In addition to its purchases and investments in software vendors, Telstra Health also recently committed $2 million to a two-year collaboration with The George Institute for Global Health to bring technology solutions to pressing healthcare challenges.

The partnership will explore the effect of eHealth technologies and services in supporting healthcare delivery as well as identify and develop eHealth innovations to support new models of care.

These include shared electronic health records, electronic decision support systems, home telemonitoring, patient self-management tools and predictive analysis.

Posted in Australian eHealth

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