Hills signs with Lincor to put technology at the point of care

Hills has officially signed a partnership agreement with Irish firm Lincor to distribute its point of care technology in hospitals and aged care facilities in Australia and New Zealand.

Hills and Lincor first shook hands on the agreement earlier this year, and last week signed an official agreement that will see Hills market the technology to its existing clients in the acute care sector and tap into the trend of hospitals providing access to electronic medical records, picture archiving systems, patient infotainment and entertainment and integrated nurse call systems at the bedside.

Hills is also eyeing off the residential aged care market with Lincor's range, which has mobile functionality as well as fixed hardware that can be attached to a wall or as a nurse's workstation in individual rooms.

The range consists of PatientLINC, which includes a hand-held telephone and integrated camera for video calls, as well as internet access and entertainment options. Patients also have access to educational materials and satisfaction surveys, and medical staff can “prescribe” videos, audio files and documents to educate patients on a condition, course of treatment, and post-discharge care instructions.

Clinicians can use PatientLINC to access the medical record, order and verify medications and share scans and test results with the patient, and through wireless devices it can also monitor vital signs that can be automatically linked to the patient notes.

There is also a ClinicalLINC solution, an addition to PatientLINC that provides secure access to clinical information systems through a wall-mounted terminal adjacent to the bedside. This solution also provides hospitals with an optional bed status management system, a room cleaning checklist and fault reporting.

Last month, Lincor launched an Android-based patient engagement solution called MediaLINC that delivers a range of education, entertainment and clinical content direct to standard HD TV sets. MediaLINC allows patients to review educational videos, documents and post-discharge instructions on the TV, and can also be used by hospitals to display information such as facility news or events.

Lincor was set up in 2003 by three former Apple executives – Dan Byrne, Pat O'Donnell and Enda Murphy – to develop a healthcare-specific solution that would bring information to the bedside. While the company outsources the manufacture of the units and devices, the Lincor team is intimately involved in its design.

However, the company is very much a software rather than a hardware firm, Mr Byrne said. The software is fully integrated into the hardware, with its prime point of difference being that it can interface with the major EMR, PACS and medications software solutions as well as provide internet access, pay TV and video conferencing capability to the patient.

It can also integrate with a hospital's food service software package and allow patients to order from menus electronically, as well as integrate with nurse call systems. For Hills, the plan is to look at how to integrate the technology it has recently acquired through its purchase of the Merlon and Questek IP and wireless nurse call systems as well as Hospital Television Rentals (HTV).

Mr Byrne said the company decided to concentrate on healthcare when an existing customer signed an agreement with the UK government to supply patient entertainment into hospitals as part of a patient empowerment project.

“At that time in the UK it was specifically aimed towards patient entertainment and nothing else, but we very quickly saw that this was an opportunity to put our product into healthcare and into hospitals, and to do more than just patient entertainment,” Mr Byrne said.

“That’s what we have continued to develop, and today we have a multi-functional device at the bedside and a multiplicity of solutions, but it does things significantly more than patient entertainment. It does that very well but it also does patient education and allows clinician access at the bedside.”

From the UK, Lincor then expanded into Europe and now has installations in hospitals in France, Belgium, Holland, Italy and Spain. It then moved into the Canadian market and then the Middle East, and ultimately picked up some contracts on the east coast of the US. Last year, a US venture capital firm called Edison invested in the company, and it now has an office in Nashville, Tennessee.

“And of course Australia then was our next challenge, but logistically it’s not the easiest place to get to from Ireland,” Mr Byrne said.

“Initially we didn’t see it as the biggest opportunity in the world versus the US, but when one considers the footprint that Hills has in 350 hospitals throughout Australia … [it] has indicated to me that we’ve been grossly under-estimating the potential. I think it’s going to be huge.”

Still unfamiliar with the New Zealand market, Mr Byrne and Mr O'Donnell said they would be guided by Hills' on the ground knowledge.

Lincor went looking for partners in Australia at the same time that Hills was also on the look-out to expand its product offering. Hills, famous for the Hills Hoist and for many years a significant player in heavy industry, was in the process of divesting some of its heavy manufacturing arms and investing in new technology. It had existing clients in the health and aged care industries with its communications and security alarms business, so healthcare became a prime target.

Last year, it set up a health division and set out to develop a portfolio of products specifically for the healthcare market. Hills' head of health solutions, Peta Jurd, recently told Pulse+IT that the plan was not to get into the delivery of clinical software or infrastructure, but to concentrate on technologies that enable the delivery of care to hospitals, residential aged care and into the community and home.

In addition to buying Merlon, HTV and Questek, Hills has also picked up the distribution rights to the Lively range of home monitoring sensors, and has now added Lincor's technology to the portfolio.

What Lincor says differentiates it from some of the other players on the market is that it has a fully integrated solution that does not involve meshing different software and hardware solutions together.

“The most critical thing to say about Lincor is that we’re a software company first,” Mr Byrne said. “Our intellectual property is all our own software. What we want to get to is that we become totally hardware agnostic.

“Right now we can put our software onto a multiplicity of devices, and those devices consist of a bedside terminal, a flat screen TV, on the wall, a nurse station or a clinical station in the room, and ultimately to a tablet and iPad for bring your own device.”

Mr O'Donnell said the key issue in any technology in hospitals is reliability and security. “If you put in a bit of software and somebody else puts in a bit of hardware and both of them don’t work together, who is to blame? We stand over a complete solution, from the back end to the network to the device. Everything is all designed as an entity.”

While the technology has a huge range of functions, Mr Byrne said there were few hospitals that were using to its full potential. For example, the bedside device has a fully functional camera so patients can Skype their families, but ultimately that could be used to monitor older patients who might get out of bed and wander, or to monitor patients in secure wards.

It can also be used to link offsite specialists to the bedside and has obvious application in aged care. “We made the decision early on to put high resolution cameras into our devices, where a lot of people didn’t do that,” Mr Byrne said. “We realised that video is going to be key in the future of technology.”

While Lincor is just beginning to test the potential of the Australian market, both companies are in discussions about replacing some of the existing patient infotainment systems that have been rolled out but aren't functioning as they should.

In the future, the company is looking at how to transform clinical data into something that can be read and understood by the patient both in and out of the hospital. Currently, clinical data can be displayed to the patient in an easy to read format – for example, colour-coded test results or vital signs – but the company also has a patient portal product that can be used both pre-admission and following discharge as an educational tool for both the patient and their families.

“We are working on making sure that the patient portal provides more and more information to the patient to understand why they’re there, and more importantly to their care giver or even their family who are going to take care of them when they leave the hospital,” Mr O'Donnell said. “It sounds simple, it sounds easy, but it’s just amazing how it’s taken forever to get to this point.

“And the other area that we’re looking at is the whole area of checklists. Before a pilot takes a plane up into the sky the first thing he goes through is a checklist, but if you ask a surgeon to do it before an operation, he won’t, and that’s where errors are made. Simple things are forgotten.

“So what we’re trying to do is develop checklists at the point of care. We have the device there and … and a screen in front of them so they don’t make those errors. That’s the kind of stuff that we want technology to do.”

Posted in Australian eHealth

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