“Female entrepreneurs are frequently juggling growing a business and rearing a family in parallel. They often require additional supports in order to realise their vision”
Wellola co-founder and MD, Sonia Neary
Case Study: Wellola Patient Portal Software Solutions
At a time when healthcare is never far from the news headlines both in Ireland and the UK, the race is well and truly on to find solutions that save money, streamline services, and ultimately make healthcare more accessible and cost-effective for patients. Leading the way is an innovative Irish start-up company, Wellola, whose founders believe only the sickest of the sick should be hospitalised and that the future of healthcare is preventative, community-based and supported by digital tools.
Wellola’s co-founder is Sonia Neary, a physiotherapist who worked in clinical practice for 15 years, gaining unique insights into the needs of patients and practitioners in today’s digital age. Sonia received funding and support to realise her vision from Enterprise Ireland, which has announced a new €750k Competitive Start Fund for Women Entrepreneurs, open for applications on the 25th of June 2019.
Wellola supports hospitals and clinics to communicate efficiently with patients
Wellola currently serves clinics in the allied healthcare space (occupational therapists, psychologists, speech and language therapists, and more), the majority of whom are mental healthcare professionals.
“Wellola aims to revolutionise the way that clinics and hospitals care for, and communicate with, their patients,” explains Sonia. “Our patient portal system enables your patients to schedule to see you in person or online, depending on your settings. GDPR-compliant messaging is a key feature of our software. This can be useful when sharing protected health information, saving on correspondence costs or as a therapy adjunct; for example, to support patients who mightn’t be able to put into words verbally what they want to say – both counsellors and speech and language therapists have mentioned this as a useful aid.”
“Put simply, we’re centralising patient communication in one platform, branded to our customers’ use…”
“..different patients have different needs and, ultimately, it’s about giving clinics the tools to offer a more equitable, accessible and rounded care package. Accessing advice and care via smartphone can be invaluable in facilitating marginalised patients, including ethnic minorities, travelers and socially disadvantaged groups.”
Not only does the Wellola system allow for a more seamless experience for the patient, but it also has the potential to generate huge savings for the healthcare industry by making it easier for patients to self-manage (make, reschedule and cancel) appointments. Nearly half a million outpatient appointments were missed in Ireland in 2017 – a significant figure in such an overstretched healthcare system and the financial implications of which are catastrophic.
“Much of this is to do with miscommunication – letters not reaching patients on time, patients not being able to get in contact with clinics via telephone to reschedule and so on,” says Sonia. “The current system is cumbersome, slow and costly – ultimately, our aim is to disrupt the way communication and scheduling is done in the healthcare industry and to make it more efficient and streamlined. Wellola could offer cost savings of €1 for every appointment letter, bill, receipt or other correspondence that doesn’t need to be posted. Almost €100 is saved for every appointment that is attended to as opposed to missed (as a direct result of the auto-reminder system) or re-filled via our real-time self-scheduling system.”
This ambition to modernise healthcare communication has translated into a slight shift in the company’s business model, as Sonia explains: “Wellola is currently being used by over 150 clinics on the ground level in the UK and Ireland, but our business model is changing slightly. Our system can be deployed in both business to business (works from clinic website) and business to enterprise settings (works from professional body or hospital site). We’ve just submitted tenders to two large local hospitals and a large private UK entity, so whereas before we were looking at the individual clinic level, the enterprise solution version of Wellola is much more scalable; with one contract we can reach a couple of hundred or even a thousand clinicians. We’re also launching into Italy this quarter and on the NHS digital marketplace, to be the part of the framework for suppliers to the NHS.”
How support from Enterprise Ireland has helped
It’s a fast-moving industry, and certainly there’s a keen race to be innovative and ahead of the pack. “The move towards digitization in the healthcare industry in Europe is palpable– which is great and about time. Current care models are unsustainable; our resources are limited. So what remains for us to do? Digitize and automate our processes where we can, leverage digital tools to enable and support care-giving humans to do what they do best. The key is to use a software partner who not only offers a slick communications tool, but also has the necessary endorsements, compliance and safety standards in place. We’ve had huge support from the Enterprise Ireland network in terms of implementing many of these key elements. Getting the right advice and help is key to early traction and growth.”
Sonia and co-founder Dr. Greg Martin have decades of experience in healthcare, which gives them a unique insight into the needs of the industry. But while they can see what the industry needs, they have not always had the business experience to realise that vision.
“Enterprise Ireland has given us fabulous networking and learning opportunities, as well as vital start-up funding. We actually met our now CTO and co-founder, Criostoir O’Codlatain Lachtna, during Phase 2 of New Frontiers at the Synergy Centre two years ago. We’ve received invaluable help and advice from experienced mentors such as Alan Costello, Conor Carmody and Martin Murray who ran the INNOVATE programme I participated in at Dublin BIC (we enjoyed it so much, we now have our offices onsite at the Guinness Enterprise Centre!).
“I couldn’t underestimate the support and learnings gleaned from my peers and mentors on these accelerator programmes. Enterprise Ireland staff have always been of instrumental support; I was given access to the wonderful Anne Marie Carroll, my Enterprise Ireland Development Advisor as a Competitive Start Fund client, and now Damien McCarney as a High Potential Start-Up client. We also were able to avail of the Market Research Centre and their knowledgeable team, who gave us access to several detailed reports on our industry and its trends. Business acumen wouldn’t have been part of my original clinical training, so to have such a vast range of opportunities where I could hone my skills about the legals, marketing, sales, the pitfalls to avoid, lean business models, product/market fits, GDP, and more has been superb.”
“I’m an equalist, which is why I’m hugely in favor of Enterprise Ireland’s remit to balance the scales in favor of diversity and gender diversity. We know that, in business, greater diversity lends itself to greater innovation and commercial success for both the company and the economy as a whole.”
I was invited to be part of a panel of women recently to discuss the issues that face women entrepreneurs. Many were saying they didn’t want to be singled out as a woman, but the truth is that we have different needs, we shouldn’t be afraid to acknowledge that and support those needs. For instance, I had the idea for Wellola, but held onto a steady clinical job far longer than I intended, simply because I wanted a family and it was just too challenging from a maternity leave (there is minimal support for the self-employed) and childcare perspective. Female entrepreneurs are frequently juggling growing a business and rearing a family in parallel. They often require additional supports in order to realise their vision.”
Enterprise Ireland’s €750,000 Competitive Start Fund (CSF) for Women Entrepreneurs is open for applications between 25 June and 16 July 2019. Under this CSF, up to €50,000 in equity funding is available to a maximum of 15 successful women applicants with early stage start-up companies. In addition, up to 15 of the successful applicants will be offered a place on Dublin BIC’s INNOVATE accelerator programme.