Helping the elderly to stay in touch

Irish software for android tablets, which offers medication reminders as well as helping older people to stay in contact with family and care givers, is going down well in Australia, writes Trish Dromey

Helping the elderly to stay in touch

A product which helps elderly people keep in contact with family and care givers, is going down well in Australia for Kildare company HealthComms.

Last week, the company signed a contract with a not-for-profit organisation in Melbourne which brings the number of users of its MyHomeReach software in Australia to 500. Company co-founder and CEO, Tom Byrne aims to increase this to 50,000 over the next two years.

The company sees scope for growth in the US, UK and other countries in the developed world, where the over-60s make up 12% of the population.

“Social isolation is common in elderly populations and the consequences can be dangerous, particularly for individuals already pre-disposed to health problems,” says Mr Byrne, explaining that the HealthComms software, which is devised for android tablets, is an easy-to-use programme allowing people to contact either family members or care services with a touch of a photo on a screen.

The solution also has a chronic disease management feature which offers appointment and medication reminders. According to Mr Byrne, this is a key selling point and is attracting interest from healthcare providers.

Mr Byrne was working for Intel when he originally had the idea of using modern technology to improve assisted living.

While working on a Corporate Social Responsibility project to introduce technology to a nursing home, Mr Byrne helped an 87-year-old resident make visual contact with his son in Japan. Deciding that there was a business opportunity in this, he set up HealthSense in 2007, joined by Paul Mooney — then an IT manager for Intel and now HealthComms chief operations officer.

In 2011, HealthSense — trading as HealthComms — enrolled in the Ryan Accelerator Programme in DCU and the company founders contracted the software development to India and the Ukraine.

In 2012, the company trialled its software in Clare and in 2013 it secured Competitive Start Funding from Enterprise Ireland. Released on the market last year, My HomeReach is sold on a software-as-a-service basis, and costs €240 for a year’s subscription.

The company identified Australia as its main target market. The key reason for this was the fact that the Australian government had enacted legislation to provide telecare support for an ageing population.

“It has a good care system for the aged in the community and the environment is open for a product like this,” explains Mr Byrne, adding that a government shift in emphasis from the care giver to the care receiver also helped HealthComms to win customers.

Catholic Homes — a not-for-profit organisation providing care for the elderly in Melbourne — became one of its first customers last year. A second contract with Catholic Homes was announced last week, during an Enterprise Ireland Trade Mission to Australia.

Mr Byrne says HealthComms now has five customers in Australia, which include private care companies and not-for-profit organisations.

The software is attracting some interest here — particularly because of the chronic disease management feature and he hopes to carry out a trial with an Irish organisation next year.

Identified by Enterprise Ireland as a High Potential Start-Up this year, the company secured €200,000 in funding, half from Angel investors and half from Enterprise Ireland.

Using the money to continue with R&D and to develop sales, HealthComms now has a staff of four. By 2016, Mr Byrne says the company will need 12 people if sales in Australia proceed as planned.The company has started the process of raising a further €400,000.

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