Ireland’s healthtech sector responded swiftly and generously

'I believe that we have reached an inflection point in the evolution of healthcare delive' says David Toohey, CEO of Syncrophi Systems,

11th May, 2021
Ireland’s healthtech sector responded swiftly and generously

What's your name and what position do you hold?

Hi, I’m David Toohey. I’m the CEO of Syncrophi Systems, a company dedicated to the development of software products focussed on the point-of-care in the hospital sector. These medical-grade products are being shown to deliver major patient safety benefits, improved outcomes and very significant workflow support for hospital staff.

What are your day to day responsibilities?

Apart from the normal duties of organisational leadership my principal focus is on engaging and working with hospital executives and health system leadership in order to understand their priorities and their ambitions for the digital hospital of the future.

What is your professional background?

For over 25 years I have worked in healthtech companies. Initially with Bausch+Lomb manufacturing contact lenses, then six years as part of the team that established Boston Scientific in Ireland where I was VP of Operations and MD of the large Galway-based R+D and manufacturing facility. This was followed by 11 years on the corporate executive team of Alere Inc (now part of Abbott), the world-leading in-vitro diagnostics company. With Alere I held global P+L responsibility for the professional products division and latterly was President International. Having co-founded Syncrophi Systems I left the corporate world to focus on developing a start-up.

I’m a Chartered Engineer, a Fellow of Engineers Ireland and I have an MBA.

How do you think the healthcare sector is coping with the Covid-19 crisis?

Given the unique challenges that Covid-19 presented to the healthcare sector it was obvious from the start that “this was not a game of perfect”. The leadership of the Dept. of Health and HSE were going to have to learn by doing. No doubt with hindsight there will be significant lessons learned from the experiences of the last 15 months. However, with the urgency of decision-making that was required it was essential that perfect did not become the enemy of good. The unparalleled strain that Covid has placed on all aspects of the public health system has laid bare the urgent need to push ahead ever faster with the national eHealth Strategy which would be a real boon to hard-pressed frontline staff, allow real-time epidemiological analysis and deliver major patient benefits. Ireland’s healthtech sector responded swiftly and generously in making existing products available and in developing bespoke solutions for specific needs. Syncrophi has been involved in this regard since the pandemic started and continues to work closely with HSE leaders on specific needs.

What lasting impact do you see on healthcare delivery?

I believe that we have reached an inflection point in the evolution of healthcare delivery. The harsh realities that the pandemic exposed in terms of limited hospital capacity, immature national information systems and patchy levels of integration between all elements of the system – hospitals, GP’s, nursing homes, clinics – will likely lead to an acceleration of existing programs such as Sláintecare’s ‘Stay Left- Shift Left’ and the Office of the CIO’s ‘eHealth/Digital Transformation’.

How do you see tech innovation transforming healthcare? What do you think will be the major breakthroughs over the next 5–10 years?

Of course, it’s easy to indulge in blue-sky thinking, especially with the level of medtech innovation that has become the norm. However, we already have two major innovation delivery vehicles which will make a huge difference between now and the end of the decade. It is becoming clear that the devices and application software required to enable certain facets of the ‘Stay Left - Shift Left’ programme are, in many cases, already in existence or will become mainstream in the next few years. They will allow effective home-based care-management to be a real option for many patients, which will have the dual benefit of relieving pressure on acute care facilities while improving the patient’s quality of life. Equally the implementation of the national eHealth Strategy will deliver enormous benefits across so many dimensions: patient safety, improved outcomes, increased capacity, staff efficiency and reduced costs.

What do you think are the key challenges in the healthcare transformation of the health service?

In some respects Covid is both a hindrance and an enabler. It’s a hindrance in the sense that staff are under such operational pressure that planning and investing for the future is perhaps seen as something that can wait. On the other hand, it has thrown into sharp relief the potential to find a better way. Change management is difficult in any sphere of activity but it seems to be uniquely challenging in healthcare. Those senior staff leading our national programmes need to be supported throughout the health service by the investment in local staff development. This will create a bridge between national and local teams that will facilitate the implementation of change throughout the care network. An important example of this is the MSc in Digital Health Transformation which was developed to equip key staff throughout the HSE with the knowledge and the tools to aid and abet the national implementation of eHealth.

What will be the leading trends in healthcare in the coming years and how will patients and providers need to adapt?

While it has been said that, on the Internet, you are only three clicks away from self-diagnosis with an exotic disease it has to be acknowledged that, in general, patients are now better informed. The continued proliferation of health-oriented wearable devices, coupled with the maturation of telehealth software tools and systems should be expected to significantly change the patient GP dynamic in positive ways. Clearly pay-for-service models will have to evolve and adapt and also it will be absolutely essential that the administration and data-analysis/data-management burden does not overwhelm GPs and associated carers. This latter problem has been a huge issue in the US over the last 5 years and has led to a significant number of staff leaving their profession. Usability is key. Fortunately we have the opportunity to learn from those early-adopters.

David Toohey is speaking at the HealthTech Ireland Association’s 2021 virtual annual conference on Thurs, May 13. For full details and booking visit www.healthtechirelandconference.com

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