Research & Insights

How Australian technology is changing the face of health care

HCF’s support of health-tech innovators is delivering member opportunities that go beyond what you might expect from a health fund.

Karen Burge
August 2019

When Lucille’s husband passed away, she wanted to remain at home and independent without causing worry for her family.

But, understandably, she was anxious about living alone as a senior. “If I would fall, who’s going to come and pick me up and make sure I’m okay?” says Lucille, an HCF member. “I don’t think I could have stayed here all this time if I didn’t have Billy.”

Billy, who might sound like a good friend, is a digital monitoring system that’s helping older people stay in their homes for longer.

Small, non-intrusive sensors are installed around the home to pick up movement and activity. The sensors track temperature, and the opening and closing of doors, so you can tell if your loved one has gone through their usual routine of getting up for the day, preparing meals, taking medication and arriving home safely after going out.

“If it [Billy] notices that I haven’t moved for a while, it will contact my family,” says Lucille. “It gives my family peace of mind. They know I’m safe.”

Billy was created by brothers Tim and Matt McDougall, and was a start-up participant in 2017, the first year of the HCF Catalyst health-tech accelerator program. In the last year we continued to run a successful in-home monitoring trial service for 190 eligible HCF members.  Billy is just one of a raft of other products and services that have gone through the rigorous process from application to graduation, in a dedicated program to bring their businesses to life.

What is HCF Catalyst?

Catalyst has been running for 4 years and is designed to support start-ups and scale-ups to transform their innovative health and wellness ideas into investment-ready businesses.

It was the vision of HCF CEO, Sheena Jack, and its success has continued year on year. In partnership with corporate start-up accelerator Slingshot, this healthcare innovation initiative takes selected participants through a 12-week program, during which they receive mentoring, marketing advice and seed funding. The final stage of the program is Demo Day, when HCF Catalyst graduates showcase their ideas to an audience of potential investors, industry opinion leaders and healthcare stakeholders. 

HCF Chief Officer for Product and Innovation, Lorraine Thomas, oversees the Catalyst program. She describes it as an exciting initiative that enables HCF to work with up-and-coming healthcare innovators to create “…partnerships that really help us build a better future for Australians when it comes to health care”.

“We’re always looking for ideas that we can turn into real solutions to benefit our membership base,” adds Lorraine.

What does a good Catalyst candidate look like? Successful ideas align with HCF’s vision for promoting health care that’s understandable and member-centric. “The pitch itself is important, too – you get to see the thinking behind the business, its founder and the passion,” says Thomas.

“The 12-week program provides the successful innovators the ability to consider their business model, enhance their business model, and gain real advice on how to be investor-ready.

“It also helps identify opportunities for them to partner with HCF; but not just HCF – our network of healthcare providers as well.”

Through the Catalyst program, $8.22 million has been invested in healthcare innovation over the past 4 years, with 38 start-ups and scale-ups graduating and moving forward with their businesses. There have been more than 1,000 applications, more than 300 pitches and about 2,000 people have attended Demo Days.

“This program gives HCF the opportunity to explore diverse ideas from people of all kinds of backgrounds, many of whom have stumbled upon their business idea after their own experience that gave them their light-bulb moment,” Thomas explains.

Giving birth to online help

Tamworth-based midwife and education provider Edwina Sharrock’s moment came when she discovered some of her clients were travelling hundreds of kilometres to access her childbirth and antenatal classes in this regional NSW city centre. Since going through the Catalyst program she’s now helped more than 1,000 parents-to-be with her Birth Beat, online prenatal classes that offer a flexible ‘one-stop-shop’ for birth and baby education. It also offers first-aid courses online.

Course modules are run by midwives and delivered using fun and engaging videos that you can revisit whenever you’d like a refresher.

Birth Beat is a great option for expectant parents who might find it hard to attend evening or weekend classes or prefer to avoid hospital-based courses altogether. It also helps close the gap for those living in rural and remote areas, who often have to travel long distances to educate themselves and build the confidence they need to prepare for childbirth.

Sharrock knows she’s making a difference to people’s childbirth experiences from the responses she receives from satisfied clients. Amanda and Stuart recently wrote to thank her for helping them prepare for the birth of their baby, Thea.

“The online course was perfect for us as Stuart works night shifts, and regular antenatal classes just weren’t going to work,” Amanda wrote. “I also love the fact that you have constant access to the modules…I watched them at least 2 or 3 times in preparation!”

Sharrock says she got so much out of the Catalyst process and looks forward to expanding her business even further in the years ahead.

“What I love about HCF is that they’re a purpose and values-driven organisation and that’s why the [Catalyst] Slingshot program is so great – because people in health care are also like that.”

Eyeing innovators

Another Catalyst participant shaking up the healthcare innovation sector is Dresden Vision, delivering cost-effective solutions for eye health using what they call a ‘mix-and-match’ model.

You select the colour of the frames, arms and pins for your glasses, and choose from 4 sizes. Next, a tool measures the distance between your pupils, known as your PD, to ensure the lenses sit front and centre. After being cut and shaped, the lenses pop straight into the frame. Because of the modular system, if you change your mind on your frame colour, or want to stock up on a range of colours, the lenses pop out and can be dropped into the new frame.

You can organise your glasses online with an existing prescription or arrange to go in-store for an eye test and fitting.

Company co-founder Bruce Jeffreys came up with the idea as a frustrated glasses-wearer. “Let face it, glasses can be annoying. You lose them, you break them, you scratch them. They’re expensive,” he explains.

“At its core, Dresden is all about making glasses accessible and sustainable – realising the impact we can make on the environment with recycled materials and wanting to bring as much of the experience as we can in store,” he says.

Plenty more Catalyst graduates are offering new ways to improve your life with healthcare innovations you may be able to access as an HCF member. And HCF plans to continue to shake up the healthcare industry with plenty of new emerging innovators. You can read more about the program here.

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