Nash says Covid has led to changes in healthcare processes
David Branigan / Sandra O’Connell Sunday June 21 2020, The Sunday Times
There must be something in the water in Newcastle West, and not just Ballygowan. The Limerick town is home to serial entrepreneur David Nash, cousin of the soft drinks family that shares its name.
This particular Nash studied economics in Trinity College Dublin before going to America to do an MBA at Columbia University. It was a “rougher New York” back then, and he loved it.
He stayed in the US for the next two decades, spending six years working for packaging company Smurfit Kappa in St Louis. From there he headed west to California, where he bought some plastics factories with a US friend. The pair sold that business in the late 1990s.
With the money they made they set up a call centre operation, PeopleSupport, in the Philippines, which became the first outsourced contact centre in Asia to be used by an US company.
The centre facilitated e-commerce, which was rapidly growing at the time but didn’t yet offer a means of communication between companies and customers, either by voice, text or chat.
People Support did well, floating on the Nasdaq in 2004, and was once valued at $500million (€444million), before being bought by an Indian conglomerate in 2008 for about half that.
At about that time Nash, who was lecturing to MBA students at UCD on a part-time basis, invested in Sláinte Healthcare, a healthcare technology company founded by Andrew Murphy, one of its MBA students.
The company’s main product, Claimsure, digitised insurance claims so that hospitals could get money from insurers more rapidly.
When Claimsure was sold four-and-a-half years ago, Sláinte Healthcare rebranded as Vitro and Murphy left. Nash is chairman and chief executive of the company, which now specialises in electronic medical record (EMR) software.
Digitised records are a key component for successful healthcare. Paper-based records are not just inefficient and take up space, “they also carry the risk of spreading infection”, Nash said.
Now, many paper-based records are set to move from the public to the private hospital system, as healthcare begins to return to normal past the pandemic’s peak.
There is a risk of them getting lost, Nash points out. It’s not unusual for hospitals to transfer records around cities “in the back of taxis and even the basket of bicycles”. That’s before you factor in the risks of doctors’ handwriting.
EMR is a more efficient, lower-cost option for hospitals that includes the eradication of unnecessary duplicate tests and provides better outcomes for patients, he added. It’s also an area in which Ireland lags.
“We already have sales in Australia and New Zealand, countries with very sophisticated healthcare systems. We supply some of the largest hospital systems in Australia with EMR.”
Sales of innovative products are difficult when you’re up against powerful incumbents, Nash points out.
“In America big companies have developed the view that EMR is very expensive.”
He compares it to the way countries only just adopting new technologies now are able to leapfrog the old mainframe systems of yesteryear and go straight to mobile apps. Vitro’s PIM (People in Motion) product can be up and running in a week.
“Ours is an app-based solution so it’s less expensive and it’s fast,” Nash said. “We’re the Revolut to Bank of Ireland or AIB.”
Its growth has required myth busting, including addressing baseless fears about security. The current disrupted environment is helping its growth, however. “Right now Covid presents huge opportunities for companies like ours, and for the healthcare system,” Nash admitted.
Vitro’s PIM costs €1 per patient if adopted at scale, compared with an €8 registered post fee, and more again to transfer medical records by courier or taxi.
“The pandemic has forced people to look at things in a fresh way in healthcare. We’ve already seen it with telemedicine and e-prescriptions.”
For EMR, Nash hopes, it’s a case of the doctor will see you now.