Hospitals and medical practitioners who are still communicating with their patients in a time warp of phone calls and letters could achieve very significant savings by entering the digital age.
That’s according to Sonia Neary the co-founder of Wellola, a startup that has launched in both the UK and Ireland with a practice management and patient portal designed to bring medical facility communications into the 21st century.
Given that digital communication is cheaper, faster and more efficient, Ms Neary says that the continuing use of older means of communication results in the waste of both human and financial resources by healthcare facilities.
“Poor communications are a major factor in missed appointments — this happens when patients are unable to contact their health provider by phone to reschedule, or because they receive appointment letters too late,” said Ms Neary, pointing out that, in the UK, missed appointments cost the NHS €1.2bn last year.
“And in Ireland, over half-a-million people missed out-patient medical appointments in 2017,” she said, adding that every missed appointment has an estimated cost of €100.
In addition, hospitals and medical professionals are spending €1 per appointment letter, which Ms Neary says could be substantially educed by the use of secure digital mail. “In the UK, the NHS spent £100m on letters last year,” she says.
To reduce costs and improve communications, Wellola is offering a patient management portal and a complimentary patient smartphone app.
“This portal can be used by patients to make and reschedule appointments, receive reminders and educational material, fill forms, receive and pay bills, where appropriate,” Ms Neary says, of a system that is designed to organise all patient communication and correspondence in one place and facilitate secure video consultations between patients.
A physiotherapist, Ms Neary set up the company in 2016 with Greg Martin. Their aim was to develop an appointment-booking engine for physiotherapists.
Signing up for Enterprise Ireland’s New Frontiers startup programme, they researched the market and discovered an unmet need for patient portals for clinics and hospitals.
They were joined by a third co-founder, Criostóir Ó Codlatáin Lachta.
“In late 2017, we launched a basic version, which could take a booking, send an appointment reminder, store medical notes, and accept online payments,” Ms Neary says.
They used the feedback from clinics to further develop the technology.
Securing €50,000 in Competitive Start Funding from Enterprise Ireland, in early 2018, allowed the founders to add functionality and the patient app. They also began exploring export opportunities to the UK and Italy.
In 2019, Wellola opted to crowdfund the company. “We set out to raise €100,000, but secured €180,000, and we received an additional €150,000 in High Potential Start Up funding from Enterprise Ireland,” Ms Neary says.
This allowed Wellola to hire an additional staff member and to actively go after customers in the UK.
“Now, we are targeting hospitals and networks of healthcare professionals in both Ireland and the UK and are one of the first to provide a patient portal, which can be used by small sole traders as well as large enterprises,” says Ms Neary.
Wellola is currently in discussions with a number of NHS Trusts.
In Ireland, Wellola’s technology is used in 150 clinics, including by a large number of mental healthcare professionals and physiotherapists and other clinicians. This year, the company plans to target GP clinics and to sign its first Irish hospitals.
“Our target is to secure 1,500 community-based clinics by the end of the year, in both the UK and Ireland, which will include a wide range of medical practitioners,” Ms Neary says.