Telstra Health buys UK health analytics firm Dr Foster

Telstra Health has acquired outright the UK's well-known and regarded Dr Foster health analytics firm, which is used by the majority of NHS hospitals to measure and benchmark quality indicators and improve performance.

Through its work with Imperial College London, Dr Foster has developed methodologies that allow hospitals to compare the outcomes of individual hospital patients by adjusting for risk factors such as medical history and age.

It also allows hospitals to look at different specialties, procedures and diagnoses to see where they are doing well or poorly in comparison to other hospitals, both in the same country and on a global scale.

First established in 1999 by two journalists as a way to publish information on the quality of NHS hospitals, Dr Foster has published an annual Hospital Guide since 2001, and in 2006, the NHS itself became a joint venture partner in Dr Foster Intelligence.

Telstra Health managing director Shane Solomon said Dr Foster had approached Telstra when it decided to look for a buyer. Mr Solomon has had a long involvement with Dr Foster, first when he worked at KPMG and brought it out to Australia for a trial period and then when he was appointed to head up the new Telstra Health venture in 2013, when Telstra Health secured the exclusive rights to resell Dr Foster's products and services in Australia.

“Obviously we have had a commitment to Dr Foster with the exclusive licence for 18 months or so now that we've been selling it in Australia,” Mr Solomon said. “When they decided to go out to tender, they approached us and said would you be interested.”

Mr Solomon said one of the preconditions of the sale was that the formal agreement between Dr Foster and the Imperial College unit run by Brian Jarman and Paul Aylin be continued, which Telstra Health was more than happy to do as it sees the risk-adjustment methodologies that Imperial College has developed as essential to the system.

“The software is very clever, but the key differentiator between it and other companies that are trying to report quality is the risk adjustment that Imperial College does,” he said. “It is absolutely crucial.”

Dr Foster offers a range of analytical services and tools such as the Quality Investigator, which allows hospitals to measure, compare, benchmark and analyse indicators such as mortality rates and readmission rates, as well as tools for clinicians to benchmark their clinical practice and a bespoke analytical service.

It also runs the Global Comparators network, which uses the company's software to allow teaching hospitals worldwide to get like-for-like comparisons. The network currently includes over 50 major teaching hospitals in 10 countries including the UK, the US, Australia, the Netherlands, Norway and Denmark.

“It is very enlightening,” Mr Solomon said. “They have a whole series of specialty meetings in the Global Comparators network where they focus on say cardiac surgery, and the clinicians involved in that get together and look at each other's results and ask what do they do differently. It's a fascinating way to try to identify specific service model improvements driven by the data.”

He said 15 different health services in Australia were using Dr Foster, led by Victoria, where the major hospitals are all involved.

“They have been using it for 12 months now,” he said. “They are using it primarily for service and performance improvement, which is what the IT tool is basically great at. In Victoria's case, it can look at over a million-plus patient records, identify which particular specialities or procedures or diagnoses the hospital is doing well, risk adjusted, versus where it is doing poorly, risk adjusted.

“Then that allows you to drill back down into the database to identify specific characteristics, such as whether something is happening on the weekend or during the week, is it happening when a person is admitted through emergency departments versus elective, and on which wards.

“It is a very powerful performance improvement tool. Doctors love data but they like data that is meaningful, so the risk adjustment from Imperial College is crucial to clinician acceptance. People don't have quality indicators as a normal performance metric, so this is a great example of where IT can take masses of information and make sense of it.”

Telstra Health has global plans for Dr Foster, including recruiting more hospitals for the Global Comparators group but also to introduce Dr Foster's full range of services into new hospital markets.

It also wants to take Dr Foster's tools and its approach and add more services, he said. “We see potential in the product for things that people around the world are looking for, such as risk-adjusted infection rates, complication rates, using the CHADx data that the [Australian Commission on Quality and Safety in Health Care] has come up with.

“They are the things that people are looking at beyond mortality, length of stay and readmissions, which is what Dr Foster primarily covers now.

“The other areas are productivity – there are good measures of productivity for things like nursing hours per risk adjusted patient day. We have seen for a while the potential to have a more complete dashboard beyond just the quality measures.”

Telstra Health is not yet ready to put a dollar value on the acquisition but it is understood to be valued at between 10 and 20 million pounds. The acquisition is certain to raise eyebrows in the UK, where Dr Foster's Hospital Guide is reported on widely.

“Whenever Dr Foster publishes something it's always in the papers,” Mr Solomon said, “but the Dr Foster people have chosen us in a competitive process and the feedback is about our commitment to the development of the product. We'll keep the tradition going and we believe in it. We have an alignment of values.”

Dr Foster co-founder and director of research and public affairs, Roger Taylor, said in a statement that Telstra Health possessed the right values, expertise and resources to help take the company to the next stage in its development.

“This is a really exciting development for Dr Foster,” Mr Taylor said. “Telstra Health brings the resources, scale and expertise to help us take the company forward and maximise the opportunities that an information-driven health system can provide for patients.”

Posted in Australian eHealth

Tags: Telstra Health, Dr Foster, Shane Solomon

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