Telstra Health launches advisory service, expands business lines

Telstra Health has launched an advisory services business to provide strategic advice on how healthcare organisations can use technology to support more integrated models of care.

The move follows a restructure of Telstra Health's business into seven market segments earlier this year, adding a new division dedicated to analytics and artificial intelligence and expanding its virtual care solutions division in the face of the COVID pandemic. With the addition of the advisory service, there are now eight.

Now in its seventh year of operation, Telstra Health has also delivered positive earnings to its parent company in the 2020 financial year. Telstra CEO Andy Penn announced recently that the business had achieved strong growth, with revenues up 12 per cent and delivering positive EBITDA for the first time in May.

“COVID has reinforced the drive for digitisation in healthcare and has dramatically accelerated newer technologies such as telehealth, in-home monitoring and access to information directly by patients,” Mr Penn said at the FY20 results announcement in August.

“It has also demonstrated the importance of high quality, real-time health information for both clinical and health policy purposes. Telstra Health is strategically very well positioned in this growing market.”

The new structure and the launch of the advisory business are part of what Telstra Health's managing director Mary Foley calls the third phase of the company's growth, following its early period of acquisitions when it purchased 18 acquisitions and start-up lines of business at a cost of $240 million.

That was followed by what Professor Foley calls a stage of experimentation, and now by a period of maturity, where Telstra Health looks to become a solutions and platform provider rather than solely a product vendor.

The advisory business is headed up by Christopher Norton, Telstra Health's head of strategy, business development and advisory services, a former PwC director and nurse. Its general manager is performance improvement specialist Elizabeth Willmott.

“Healthcare providers across Australia are facing a range of challenges that our advisory services team can directly support,” Mr Norton said.

“We launched our advisory services as a response to health and aged care providers wanting our support in navigating the complexities of digital health to solve some of their most complex problems.”

Professor Foley said Telstra Health was increasingly being recognised for its expertise in digital health, and that establishing an advisory service was a logical move given providers are coming to the organisation for advice.

“We are seen as having that practical approach because we actually develop it, write it, deploy it and we do that in conjunction with healthcare providers in real-life settings. They want practical roadmaps to inform them about options, and that is informed by people who have that depth of understanding of what can really work, about how technology is configured across the country and how you can start to leverage that to get new solutions to old problems.”

Professor Foley, who joined Telstra Health in February 2017 following the retirement of founding CEO Shane Solomon, said the early period of Telstra Health was a bold vision and acquisition phase, followed by an experimentation phase.

“The phase we have been on since 2017 has been how that comes together, where the whole is more than the sum of the parts,” she said.

“These things are not overnight wonders. While people love to talk about disruption ... for us the main thing in health is not about disruption but working with health systems and health providers, clinicians and their patients, to adapt digital capabilities to really enable transformation of care, transformation of how health is delivered, improving access, improving quality, improving timeliness.”

Phase of maturity

Telstra Health initially invested in 18 different business lines with a large range of products. It formed these into several market segments across health and aged care that with the addition of the advisory service now numbers eight.

These are hospitals and connected health, primary and community health, aged and disability, virtual care solutions, pharmacy, population health, innovation and analytics, and the new advisory services division.

The virtual care solutions business has been given a big boost by the COVID pandemic but Telstra Health has been active in this field for a number of years through its remote monitoring and telehealth platforms such as My Care Manager and HealthNow, which have been rebranded as virtual health monitoring and virtual health connection.

“The virtual healthcare piece has gone overnight from the experimental model here and there to having to be adopted at scale,” Professor Foley said. “The important things are having a payment model that supports it, clinical models that supports it as well as the technology. The rapid embracing and adoption by providers, by clinicians and by patients of how healthcare can be done, that has been amazing.”

The different divisions have not been designed in their own silos, however. Professor Foley said the long-term vision has always been how they can work together.

“Telehealth, our consumer app, our remote monitoring and what we've been evolving over the last little while is how they interconnect with our outpatient products, how they might connect with our hospital EMR, and how they might connect with our community health EMR,” she said.

“It is as much about hospital in the home or supporting outpatients in a different way as well as primary and specialist and allied healthcare consults being delivered differently.

“We have now set that up as our virtual care business and we have recruited somebody from the hospital sector who's worked on transformation in the hospital sector for new models of care. That is Mel Gates, who was previously with Ramsay Health. We did that during the course of the pandemic.

“The other area we had, hospital and health services, we've broken that out so the community health piece of that [is now part of] primary healthcare and community-based delivery of care, more on the public sector side and Aboriginal Medical Services or other multidisciplinary clinic type services. That is now a huge sector.”

This division includes the Communicare system widely used by Aboriginal Medical Services and which Telstra Health has since invested a lot of resources in. This system now underpins the community health information system for the Western Australian Country Health Service and is also being rolled out in far north Queensland.

Data analytics is an area Telstra Health has been active in primarily through its Dr Foster product but which Professor Foley says has “super accelerated” over the last 18 months. The business includes artificial intelligence as well as innovation and data analytics and is headed up by Michael Ashby, head of business analytics and artificial intelligence.

“Once we support our clients to digitise then then they want to innovate and get new models of care, hence our advisory services, but they also want to know how to use the data in new ways and that's where data and analytics become some important,” she said.

Other divisions have seen growth on a national scale, especially the population health division, which covers the National Cancer Screening Register and real-time prescription monitoring solutions. Telstra Health is a joint owner with the Pharmacy Guild of Fred IT, which has built the National Data Exchange for the federal government. Fred also markets a range of pharmacy dispense and retail management solutions, and also owns eRx, one of the two national prescription exchange services.

Professor Foley said Telstra Health's new advisory business was sparked by the increasing move by organisations, public and private, that were coming to Telstra Health to ask for help with their digital strategy.

“That can lead to conversations both about products we have and things we've done in different sectors for different customers,” she said. “When people come to talk to you about that it goes way beyond just a pre-sales dialogue.”

Hospitals and connected care

Telstra Health's hospitals and connected care division has been led by former NZ Health IT Board CEO Graeme Osborne since he joined the company in March 2019. Assets in this division include Telstra Health's EMR, its patient flow and queue manager products, the secure messaging system formerly known as Argus and a provider directory.

Mr Osborne said he was encouraged by the way Telstra Health had brought together a whole range of products to focus on the continuum of care and in particular improving lives through connected healthcare.

“That matched with the work I was doing in the New Zealand market and I was really interested to see how a private company could bring all the elements together to deliver connected healthcare,” Mr Osborne said. “I have to say I'm really encouraged by what I found and the progress we've made in the last 12 to 18 months.”

The EMR has been completely re-platformed by chief technology officer Russel Duncan and his team, and is now used at Sydney's Northern Beaches Hospital as well as St John of God Midlands Hospital in Perth, both public private partnership developments. The EMR was first developed at St Vincent's Hospital in Darlinghurst, where it is still used.

“The product has moved a long way from that,” Mr Osborne said. “We now have an EMR that is comparable with the competition that is in the market here in Australia.”

The reasoning behind calling the division hospitals and connected health is recognition that hospitals can't be an island by themselves in a digital world, he said. “It needs to be connected to the community, so we are bringing the provider directory and the Argus product into our solution set when we work with our customers. Outpatients and referral management is a key area we are working on.”

The hospital and connected care division also works closely with the virtual care division for customers such as Silverchain and Calvary, who are interested in tracking the patient journey through a range of environments, Mr Osborne said.

“With an ageing population, while someone may be in their home, they may find themselves needing to go into hospital or residential care and then back into the home. There is a lot of conversations going on about how to track patients and make sure the continuum of care is managed.

“That is much less about hospitals but is more about bringing together the capabilities across Telstra Health to address that market.”

Posted in Australian eHealth

Tags: Telstra Health

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