Blog, Donald McPhail

Donald McPhail interview

Building bridges with technology

Wikihospitals – Donald McPhail, thank you for joining us. We’re here today to talk about several health startups, including Becon Health and Be Psyched.

Donald, can we start with your background? You’re an engineer, and you’ve trained in Queensland University. Is that correct?

Blog, Donald McPhail
Donald McPhail

Donald – Yes… I’m an electrical engineer by background, and have worked in Queensland, as well as in the UK, Netherlands, and the US.

Wikihospitals – So you’re originally a Queensland boy?

Donald – Yes, that’s right. I’ve moved around the state a bit, but yes, born and bred in Queensland.

Wikihospitals – Your (Linked In) profile says that you’re looking for transformative change. That’s a little bit beyond the average engineer. You’re somebody who’s looking to be more bold… than the average… person. Is that correct?

Donald – Yes, I guess it’s the type of things that interest me. Taking something that’s been very static for the last hundred years, to changing… the way that we work and supply customers, and the business models around that.

Wikihospitals – So looking to go beyond the way things have always been done in the past, and trying to improve them, and ensure that… (the) stakeholders… (are involved in) the process…

Donald – In each of these industries, whether it’s health or disability… there’s a lot of people that, I guess, are used to the status quo, the way things have always been done…

Wikihospitals – What was your first exposure to the health industry? People who get involved in health startups always have some sort of a trigger that’s brought them into this industry.

Donald – Interesting, my first initial exposure was when I was… studying electrical engineering. I must admit I’ve (also) had a little bit on the… first-responder side, being a lifeguard and a life-saver, and being… involved in that sort advanced, first-aid sort of support…

There’s a close linkage between electronic engineering and biomedical engineering space. A lot of the same stuff that you can be designing electronics for a consumer could also align into… the sort of devices that you can use to help improve quality of life or to respond to particular challenges in the medical sector.

That was… at a peripheral level… then my sort of deep-dive into it, I guess, is… with Be Psyched, and then working with Alexandra Whitehead to set up a Psychology practise, and that sort of evolved over time… Alexandra is a psychologist who likes to challenge some of the norms and do things a bit differently… she wanted to look at… the type of… activities that are really focused on.. people (getting) healthy lifestyles.

David McPhail, Be Psyched
Be Psyched

“It is about responding to customer needs and bringing (them) on a journey… it’s also about the people that are involved in that sector… (to) change their mindset around, where everything is heading, (what) their role in it is, and where they can… help accelerate the positive changes…”

Wikihospitals – Queensland has been pioneering remote health. You have a large (remote health) unit at the University of Queensland, because the nature of the state, such a large piece of land and such a small population.

Donald – Yes… It is a challenge with the distances, and traditionally that’s meant a lot of health practises spread across the state, (and people) having to fly people back to Brisbane for anything that’s not minor. The University of Queensland have been really working over the last few years… developing that Telehealth model.

The Queensland Government, through their Advance Queensland Initiative, have support from Central Queensland University as well, to… set up a marketplace for allied health services online, over video. These have been running since 2013. Most of the services are based around face-to-face… we have a joint venture with some of our complimentary allied health practises.

Becon Health was born from the discussion that Alex and I were having around … either there’s (limited health professionals)… out there. At the same (time)… they are often completely booked out for months on end… We’ve thought about, how could we provide (better) services into those areas?

Blog, Donald McPhail, Becon Health
Becon Health

I had experience around doing things by Skype. It’s not (always) effective… Becon Health was sort of born as an idea, then we… started to pursue and develop (it), and then eventually, go for innovation funding with Advance Queensland.

Wikihospitals – What would be the difference between an ordinary service and your service, in terms of technology and problems solved? (How do you) use your engineering skills, (to) makes health-care more accessible, and more accurate?

Donald – The platform can hold everything from bookings to the financial transaction, and then the video session itself, but the providers have complete control around the price that they set, and then the time that they’re available. They’re registered professionals with AHPRA… the services they provide are… linked, where appropriate, to Medicare, and… Veterans Affairs… Otherwise, it’s private fee for service…

Wikihospitals – Like GP2U and medical teleconferencing services, it handles booking and payments. (Customers can see) who they are, what services they offer, make their own booking, (health professionals can) charge their own fees, and their billing is handled through the platform…

Donald – It breaks down some of those barriers to being able to access greater markets.

If you’re sitting in Cairns, for instance, you’re pretty well limited to people that live in Cairns that you can provide your service to; but with Becon Health, your geographic (location) is not an issue. You can provide (services) to anyone else in Australia, as long as the time suits you.

“Becon Health is is a marketplace for accessing… allied health service. The best analogy, I guess, is to use Airbnb…  Any allied health professional can register… set up their profile, (advertise) their rates, and their availability… Clients… can search and find, based on their need… and the price that suits them as well.”

Wikihospitals – If you’re a therapist, if… clients are using smart devices, are they able to sync that data to the platform in some way?

Blog, Donald McPhail
Donald McPhail

Donald – Yes, at the moment it’s not specific to any particular device… there is a file transfer system… We’ve been having a chat with some of the physiotherapists and speech pathologists that have different devices they like to use, and then looking at what sort of integration … might be available.

Wikihospitals – Payments.. can be a very messy and difficult problem, (for) both (patient and the health professional), but (they)… are able to get their problems resolved through the Becon Health platform.

Donald – Yes… even things around notifications, say, text messaging and email, (or) reminders. I guess the suitability and the opportunity with Telehealth, it’s an area that’s only going to grow. That’s why it’s quite exciting to be able to facilitate (this) marketplace.

Wikihospitals – It’s cheaper for everybody. With traditional health services you’ve got to find parking… get in there… (then) get all the way home again. Particularly in a big state like Queensland… Also, for country people, there’s a real need for a bit of privacy, because country people don’t want to see the psychologist in their own country town.

Donald – We’ve done a fair bit of… market research. What’s been interesting, people in… city centres… Brisbane, Sydney, Hobart, Melbourne, they have been… saying … Getting parking has actually come up a fair bit, the travel time.. It’s just getting across those large city centres.

…(Another thing) that came up… was it would’ve been great to know more about providers. (Patients are) essentially… going in blind. That’s what they really want, to be able to identify and connect, almost in the same way that people do with Airbnb…

Wikihospitals – With the rise of chronic diseases, there’s only going be more… people using allied health services, particularly when you can integrate (their services) with the smart devices. I mean, there’s technology now that can analyse people’s speech-patterns, (and) smart devices that can track their movements. The more that you can integrate (data), the (more) professionals can (help) their clients.

Are you planning to stay around the health industry, Donald? What is your future plan?

Donald – At this stage, yes. I definitely plan to continue to pursue… Becon Health, with House with No Steps, and Be Psyched… At the same time, I do still have a bit of a passion or a enjoyment that comes from pushing… changes in the electricity sector.

While they might sound like two completely separate sectors, the overlap is so interesting. They really are going through the same challenges… the opportunity for new growth around new delivering models is present in both.

Health is definitely a passion and an area I plan to continue to be a part of.

Wikihospitals – Good. Now House with No Steps, can you tell us a little bit more about that and how you can bring technology to reform the sector?

Donald – House with no Steps is headquartered out of Sydney, but it has national reach along the east coast. It’s got about 3,000 customers and about a similar number of staff in that as well, including volunteers. It provides… supported living services…

The company has an active, strategic innovation progress, so one percent of revenues are invested back into the programme…

This is actually one of the really cool things about House with No Steps. It has a really strong focus on risk and the provision of customer service and getting people to enjoy their work…

It’s also looking forward to the future and trying to understand … What are those really big strategic risks and opportunities that can be faced 30 years out, that are going to impact the way in which disability exists in Australia and globally? Therefore, the services, and the marketplace and that around it. 

Wikihospitals – are you planning technology (with) House with No Steps…

Donald – I’m a director, so I have that sort of governance level at the top end… 

I think… one of the things that attracted me to the organisation, is how progressive they are, and how looking to the future they are… wanting to improve and reform…

“Technology will change the way that we can provide the type of services people need (and)…  the ability to interact,  work, have quality of life, and… choice into the future.”

Wikihospitals – Donald, where do you see yourself in five years?

Donald – Be Psyched (will) continue to establish and build that base across North Queensland…

With Becon Health, I think, it’s really broad as to what can happen based on the stages of the journey that we’re at. Ideally, we’ll have, in five years time, a really good, strong national presence in Australia, and we’re looking at the US… 

Our vision is definitely to expand into another market… (it) could through strategic partnerships, that could be even be to eventual merge or being swallowed up by another organisation…

House with No Steps, I think it’s only going to continue to evolve and to grow. (In) five year’s time, you definitely will start to see some tangible outworking of that strategic innovation initiative…

Being in Queensland is such a great place… We’ve got such diversity, from Brisbane through to the rest of the regions, into the Torres Strait Islands… really is this mecca for great innovation and opportunity…

Wikihospitals – That’s definitely the way of the future, being able to create an online marketplace, like you said, like Airbnb, where people can launch their services and people can access those services…

And both sides of the equation have far less stress, far more satisfaction using technology as a bridge.

Blog, Donald McPhail
Donald McPhail

Donald – I think it’s really exciting. I know we’ve got some reforms happening at sort of a legislative level, but I think they’re quite at the early stages. Either way, there’ll be a slew of changes, and it’s probably just a question of the right … We’re part of a global community.

Wikihospitals – Well, Donald McPhail, thank you very much for speaking to Wikihospitals… We look forward to seeing your business grow, particularly your online health platforms, like Becon Health…Thank you for you work. We will stay in touch.

Donald – Great, thanks very much for having me.

© Wikihospitals 13th November 2017

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