Making It Work: Irish start-up partners with Nutricia to launch nursing home app

Dublin-based Wellola will team up with Nutricia to provide platform for video consultations with healthcare providers

Sonia Neary, founder of Wellola: ‘Everything we do is underpinned by this mission to help ensure that only the sickest of the sick are hospitalised’

Sonia Neary started the new year with a major new contract which sees her company Wellola partnering with Nutricia, the Danone-owned therapeutic food and clinical nutrition company, to provide care services remotely to nursing homes in Ireland.

Wellola has developed an app for Nutricia, which will allow residents at 170 nursing homes around the country to take part in remote consultations with dietitians, speech and language therapists and tissue viability nurses.

“Prior to the pandemic, almost all of these services were face-to-face. Now, via the Nutricia Care app platform, they’ve been moved online, so Nutricia’s healthcare professional staff can continue to work remotely and safely with care home residents,” Neary said.

Wellola is a secure video consultation and patient portal for healthcare and therapy providers, ranging from physiotherapists, speech and language therapists and counsellors to GP clinics, hospitals and companies such as Nutricia.

Patients can use the platform to book appointments and take part in video consultations. There are secure facilities for mail and direct messaging, as well as access to payment and e-invoicing tools.

“For SMEs, there’s a subscription-as-a-service model that works directly from a clinic’s own website and comes with a free patient app called Communicare,” Neary said.

“For larger entities, such as professional bodies and hospitals, we offer own-branded portals, both online and app-based.

“Our business model is mainly partnership-based now. As well as the Nutricia app, we’ve developed the EireCare platform, which is used by GPs and public sector bodies in Ireland.”

Wellola started out as PhysioLinked, a booking platform Neary launched in 2016 in response to her own experience working part-time in the home-care market while she was a senior physiotherapist at Clontarf Hospital in Dublin.

“I was working for the HSE and I wanted to do extra work myself privately in the home-care market. To do that, I needed an online presence and a booking facility, so I built the platform and other physios signed up to it,” she said.

The PhysioLinked platform worked in a similar way to starting out, Neary said, offering physiotherapists an online practice management system, while customers got access to a list of vetted clinicians, verified reviews and reduced package rates.

“The idea morphed over time from a platform that home-care physiotherapists could use to keep patient records to a fully patient-facing communication system,” she said.

“I would describe Wellola now as a portal for patients, first and foremost. Everything we do is underpinned by this mission to help ensure that only the sickest of the sick are hospitalised.

“Clinicians can use the platform to connect with patients from anywhere in multiple ways, ideally keeping them monitored safely while they’re at home, and making sure that all their healthcare data is safe and secure.”

Wellola employs six people at the Guinness Enterprise Centre in Dublin. Neary runs the company with Greg Martin, who is a doctor, and Criostóir O’Codlatáin Lachtna, a full stack developer.

Wellola raised €150,000 on Spark, the Irish crowd-funding platform, in 2019 and entered the British market in the same year, exhibiting its enterprise product at that year’s NHS Expo.

The company plans to open its first office in Britain later this year and also has a reseller in Italy.

“The current climate has meant the demand for products like ours has opened up some really exciting opportunities, particularly in the public sector in the UK,” Neary said.

More than 600 health organisations in Britain already use Wellola, according to Neary.

“Our plan now is to double our headcount based on our sales pipeline for 2021. We’ve just finished a pilot with the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, which has been really well-received,” she said.

“We’re also really close to finalising a partnership with one of the biggest providers of electronic healthcare records in Britain. That will be huge for us.”

The monthly licence fee for Wellola starts at €29 for smaller clinics and individual practitioners.

“It can function as a stand-alone system, but it’s also interoperable with electronic healthcare records systems,” Neary said.

“I think that’s actually one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned over the years. In the healthcare sector, there are so many different touchpoints in relation to patient data, it’s really essential to have the capability as a provider to inter-operate.

“Working as a siloed stand-alone solution offers only limited value for our customers. That’s a given for us now, so the focus of our technical roadmap is all about offering a high degree of interoperability.”

Wellola is planning to raise €1.2 million in seed funding this year. The company is a client of Enterprise Ireland, the state agency.

“Enterprise Ireland has given us fabulous networking and learning opportunities, as well as vital start-up funding,” Neary said.

“We actually met our now chief technical officer and co-founder, Criostóir, taking part in phase two of the New Frontiers programme at the Synergy Centre in Tallaght.

“We were also able to avail of Enterprise Ireland’s Market Research Centre and their knowledgeable team who have given us access to several detailed reports on our industry and its trends.

“Business acumen wasn’t part of my clinical training, so to have access to these resources has really helped me to hone my skills in areas like law, marketing, sales and lean business models.”