Asthma, cancer, arthritis, diabetes, mental health conditions: these are all illnesses classified as “prominent chronic conditions” according to Australia’s Department of Health. Data from the last National Health Survey found such conditions touch 1 in every 2 Australians – that’s half of the population suffering from at least one prominent chronic condition.
Put together at a think tank a number of years ago, pharmaceutical industry veterans Jenny O’Neill and Michael Hurse worked to design an innovative tech idea that could be used to manage patients with chronic illnesses and improve connectivity for health professionals.
One of the ideas to come out of the think tank was a platform to help manage patients with chronic illnesses that would be “closer to the research side”, able to hold data that could support clinical research in addition to the everyday care of the patient.
This led O’Neill and Hurse to launch EpiSoft, a Sydney-based startup working to develop cloud-based solutions for health professionals to manage patients with chronic diseases.
Under one umbrella platform, the solution allows multiple health professional stakeholders, including GPs, hospitals, doctors, clinicians, and nurses to access an “interactive treatment plans” for a number of chronic diseases, including Crohn’s Disease, mental health illnesses and cancer.
“It’s a full electronic medical record and practice software system. It differs from those software systems that support hospital and practices directly for general patient flow, in that it focuses on chronic disease management,” explained O’Neill.
“People supporting patients with cancer see a different workspace than those supporting patients with mental health illness, for example. At its core is an interactive treatment plane. We have over 500 evidence-based guidelines built into a library and the users can publish the ones that they want within their own clinics.”
Accessing early seed funding, EpiSoft began with Crohn’s Disease as the only chronic illness supported on the platform at launch, before spreading into cancer treatment plans with the support of a grant from the Federal Government.
O’Neill said it was this addition that helped the business “take off”.
“Now we have quite a few sites using it for cancer, and others using it for varying chronic diseases,” she said.
Patients added to the web-browser platform fill out their own data prior to hospital admission through a specially tailored portal, or have their data transferred by connecting to the existing hospital patient management system.
O’Neill said patients currently don’t have the ability to contribute any other data to the platform thereafter, such as what symptoms they’re experiencing, although it’s a feature being looked into.
A patient’s reaction to treatment, as well as any other symptoms experienced, are instead tracked from the collaborative effort of doctors and nurses, or any other healthcare stakeholder involved in the patient’s treatment.
Taking a cancer patient as an example, O’Neill discussed the multitude of tasks healthcare professionals take across managing a patient with a chronic disease, beyond jotting down symptom notes.
“[Doctors] would then set up the chemotherapy order for the patient through the platform, which would involve a series of appointments and drugs to be administered on different days and set out in the system so that the admin staff can book the appointments, and the nurses can administer the drugs on the correct day. They can then record the events occurring with the administration of those drugs,” she said.
“Admin staff will also deal with the billings and uploading documents [while] doctors upload any notes the the platform. Nurses manage drug charts, and the pharmacist in the hospital will manage the orders and double check for any allergies, things like that.”
Data on how a patient’s response to the treatment can be tracked through a flowchart, providing a clear “longitudinal picture”. For specialists, O’Neill said the data visualisation serves as a large attraction, allowing them to complete practice audits.
“You can track the patients over time against a range of different activities, tasks, etc. They’re recording the data of patients they see and benchmarking it against other practices in the program to see how the fair in patient outcomes compared to the wider group.”
Also looking to improve cancer care is Sydney-based healthtech startup Cancer Aid. The platform focuses more on cancer patients and their carers rather than doctors, providing them with information and tools to track the progress of their treatment.
According to O’Neill, having data-capture features in EpiSoft is especially important for contributing to research around chronic illnesses, which is becoming increasingly more expensive to fund over time.
“The cost of research has doubled in the last decade, so we wanted to look at how can we help the gather data and make sense of it for the benefit of those with chronic disease. The platform helps reduce the cost of research into these illnesses and bring new and better treatment into the market sooner,” she said.
Last year O’Neill participated in SBE Australia’s accelerator program, looking to gather pitching skills and understand how to approach investors.
“It was hard to pitch the idea of episoft to an investor community to understand what it does, so Springboard was helpful for that,” said O’Neill.
Now, the startup is in talks with multiple investors to lock in a funding round, as it looks to push its offering in the US market later this year or early in 2018.
The business currently has a pilot site up and running the US, which O’Neill said must overcome compliance hurdles before it can fully launch.
Image: Jenny O’Neill (second from left). Source: Supplied.