“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 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’s Competitive Start Fund.
Wellola supports hospitals and clinics to communicate efficiently with patients
Wellola’s end-to-end patient communication platform is designed to ‘plug-in’ to both hospital and primary care systems alike, giving patients access to their medical information (both clinical and administrative); this results in huge cost savings for buyers such as the NHS in post, no-shows and administration whilst supporting community-based care delivery via Wellola’s video and online consultation tools. In 2021, Wellola secured a partnership with one of the UK’s leading electronic patient record providers, Servelec, and a place on the Digital First Online Consultation Video Consultation Framework. Wellola currently serves practitioners in multiple public and private healthcare settings:
“Our patient communication platform complies with ISO27001, integrates or ‘talks’ with systems already in place at a hospital or clinic and is rich in terms of the functionality and choice it offers our customers
“Put simply, we’re centralising patient communication in one platform, branded to our customers’ use…” says Neary
“..different patients have different needs and, ultimately, it’s about giving clinics and hospitals 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, travellers 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. One of the platform’s modules makes it easier for patients to self-manage (make, reschedule and cancel) appointments. Over £1 Billion was lost by the NHS in no-shows in 2019; £100 Million was spent on post– a significant figure for any 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. “This can all be improved when digitising these processes and giving patients the means to self-manage appointments”.
“Furthermore, its far less costly to support patients in the comfort of their own homes, where possible. All of the other modules in our solution are designed to support this method of care delivery- video consultations, messaging, form sharing and symptom tracking for example”.
This ambition to modernise healthcare communication has translated into a slight shift from the company’s original business model, as Sonia explains: “Wellola is currently being used by over 750 clinics on the ground level in the UK and Ireland and this quarter sees us launch our first large scale NHS trust in the UK. The original offering was a SaaS product designed for sole traders and clinics. The current platform works using Fast Health Interoperability Resources (FHIR) APIs to connect to large scale enterprise healthcare record systems, opening up a much wider opportunity for our company. Given the current demand for this platform, we are currently raising a Series A to support our UK and EU expansion”.
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 whilst they had some understanding of what their buyers wanted, some upskilling was required in order to formulate and implement a successful business plan:
“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 in 2016. 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!). Going for Growth, an award-winning female-led business development programme, supported by Enterprise Ireland was a fantastic support and resource for me during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I couldn’t overestimate the support and learnings gleaned from my peers and mentors on these accelerator programmes.” says Neary.
“Enterprise Ireland staff have always been of instrumental support especially both our development advisors and the Market Research Centre and their knowledgeable team, who gave us access to several detailed reports on our industry and its trends. Whilst Greg has an MBA and MPH, business studies wouldn’t have been core to my original undergraduate or 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, GDPR, and more has been superb.”
“I’m an equalist, which is why I’m hugely in favour of Enterprise Ireland’s remit to balance the scales in favour 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 predictable 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.”