Dr Global shifts focus to software

As ways of accelerating New Zealand's transformation into a knowledge economy were being debated in Auckland this week, one innovative idea has been diagnosed as a bit premature.

As ways of accelerating New Zealand’s transformation into a knowledge economy were being debated in Auckland last week, one innovative idea has been diagnosed as a bit premature.

New Plymouth-based Doctor Global, founded by Dr Tom Mulholland, has shifted focus from online health consultation to internet-based medical records software.

Mulholland says the new emphasis is “B2B, not B2C”.

Doctor Global was set up in April 1999 to provide paid-for online health consultations, which it planned to do internationally. The company last year received $2 million of capital from Wellington-based Number 8 Ventures and $1 million from private investor Neville Jordan.

Number 8 Ventures chairman Peter Allport says the shift in focus to health records software makes online health consultations more viable. “When you break into new business paradigms, you don’t always know where it will take you,” he says.

“The original concept is still in place but is going slowly. You have to have a mechanism that accelerates that. We believe that electronic records is the mechanism,” he says.

In January Doctor Global, now terming itself an IT software company, launched the first version of Doctor Global Electronic Record, which it plans to rename MyLife Record. The browser-based system maintains patients’ health details over the web. Now in version 1.35, the software gives patients the ability to consult their doctor using a medical record as a basis, or contact a consultant or pharmacist either face-to-face or over the internet.

The company’s software has individual users but Doctor Global has yet to sign its first major customer. The firm is talking to district health boards and two Australian state governments.

Mulholland previously called online healthcare the way of the future. But he now says Doctor Global only recruited 35 of the 80 doctors who registered with them last year to offer the service.

This week, Mulholland and outgoing information and operations head Dr Andre Snoxall confirmed the changes at the three-year-old firm.

“There is now very little online assessment,” says Snoxall. “The focus is to provide a repository of information. The consultation business pretty much became a non-event after November. Our core business is [now] providing the tools to allow people to do it, not do it ourselves.”

However, Mulholland says the number of online health consultations has increased and these were needed to help develop the software. “What has fallen by the wayside is us doing the consultations,” he says.

“It has always been in our business plan that we would build a secure relational database so doctors, patients and health providers can consult online using a web browser as access to a secure database. Email is not secure,” he says.

The idea is that clients “have a health account, just like a cheque account”, he says.

Mulholland says Doctor Global has yet to spend all of its $3 million of investment capital and it has a product to show for it. “We are still spending it employing programmers and sales and marketing staff,” he says.

During his year at Doctor Global, Snoxall spent six months as acting chief executive. The current head is Roger Gower.

This week Snoxall became director of information management and planning at Capital and Coast District Health Board. He will be replaced by Grant Goodman, formerly risk management and quality manager at Taranaki Healthcare, where Snoxall worked before joining Doctor Global.

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