Robbie Hughes, CEO of cloud-based practice management software provider, Qinec, meets with Duncan MacRae to discuss how digitisation is improving the health of the medical sector.
How was Qinec created and how has it evolved?
While I was doing a summer job at a GP practice I realised that large software providers were seemingly incapable of meeting the needs of the healthcare market. They were unable to develop systems that were intuitive and would support clinicians in doing what they care about most – delivering excellent patient care.
The healthcare market is all about trust, so it took a long time to build the business but then we got to the point where growth and opportunity were outstripping our ability to deliver, which was the point at which we sought funding. We are now 33 people and have seen in excess of 100% annual growth and increasing rapidly.
Amadeus Capital Partners and Archimedia invested £1.6m in Qinec in November 2012. How has this helped Qinec grow?
As a business with a monthly reoccurring fee model, it costs time and money to set up a new install. The net result is that it costs us money to acquire customers and, as such, there was a cash flow gap.
The funding has enabled us to plug that gap but also invest in our next generation platform that radically reduces the cost of customer acquisition. Changing the model of the business was vital to grow and we couldn’t have done it without the funding.
How are people reacting to, and relying more on, the digitisation of healthcare?
I would argue that the digitisation of healthcare has yet to happen. Yes, many clinicians use computers but they are not being used in the right way; they have become a barrier. Unlike other sectors, healthcare is not multi-channel – you can’t text your surgery or currently book online (although there are plans to change this), and people don’t understand why.
It’s because clinicians have been burnt in the past by tech and so are hesitant or in some cases sceptical about the potential of technology. But by working with clinicians and developing systems that utilise devices or interfaces they use in their own personal life, such as smart phones and tablets, we’re helping our customers to help them use these devices to break with tradition and engage patients in their own care.
How does Qinec help businesses improve patient care and reduce costs?
Healthcare is a big jigsaw puzzle and to bring all the disparate pieces together in order to build a picture is hard work. But joining this up for patients and clinical staff alike is critical to delivering efficient care. That is what Qinec enables clinicians to do. As a result they have a better understanding of how their treatment plan is impacting patients, they can make tweaks or referrals based on a deeper understanding of that patient’s experience, rather than subjective pieces of information shared on an irregular basis that by themselves can be misleading. The better we can amplify the expertise of the clinician with technology, the more time they have to deliver better care.
How do you help businesses handle NHS compliance?
We help our customers in two key ways. Firstly, the dataset we collect is vast and so it makes sense that the strenuous and rapidly varying NHS reporting requirements are built into our platform. Secondly data security is a big concern for the NHS and so our systems are IS027001 audited on an annual basis. Alongside this we also work with ethical hackers so that we can offer our customers assurances about the safety of their data. Unfortunately, the stringent requirements around N3 make engaging via mobile devices extremely limited at this stage and so we look forward to changes there.
Why does having no administrative support benefit medical practices?
We don’t advocate that people replace their administrative staff with technology. The patient experience can be significantly improved by the warm smile of a receptionist. After all, when people go to the doctor they want to be looked after. The trick is to help the technology help people be people. The administrator shouldn’t be invisible, but the computer should be.
Tell us about Qinec’s iPhone app, as well as your debt chasing wizard and automatic card processing devices.
The iPhone app is aimed at helping patients to consume the services of the practice in their pocket. We want to make it easy for patients to interact with their clinician and vice versa. The other two elements are aimed at helping clinicians to eliminate painful and repetitive tasks – debt chasing and card processing be two of the worst offenders – and making it much more straightforward. Everything can be done at the push of a button, removing the need for multiple correspondence.
How would you cope with server failure? What other challenges are you faced with?
Greater automation can bring increased risk. Cloud is very exciting but many of the complex failure modes are still being ironed out by key suppliers themselves. Our experience has shown us that the most effective strategy is the simplest one using risk and impact reduction strategies. We proactively monitor our distributed server estate and have rigorously tested backup and recovery procedures.
How would you ‘heal’ the NHS?
Previous NHS IT programmes have been bold in terms of their vision, but delivered in a very disjointed fashion. Using 50 suppliers to implement one vision in 50 different ways is never going to work. To ensure that the NHS remains relevant it needs to provide continuity of care at a local level. A set of standards needs to be developed and then the market should decide how they are going to deliver these in their local region.