UCC medtech impatient to roll out solution for waiting lists

Stimul.ai uses algorithms to analyse data from clinics to help hospitals better allocate their resources and thus shorten waiting times for procedures

Naomh McElhatton, chief executive of Stimul.ai: ‘Our solution works with the capacity and resources to hand’. Picture: Stephen Davison

The 12 finalists in this year’s Enterprise Ireland Big Ideas competition, a national conference in which Irish life sciences start-ups pitch their products to investors and business leaders, all believe their product is the right solution for the right moment.

Stimul.ai is no exception. The University College Cork (UCC) spin-out, founded in 2018, aims to reduce hospital waiting lists with a machine learning-based tool that analyses data from clinics and departments to allow them to better allocate their resources and thus shorten waiting times for procedures.

For years the issue of lengthy wait times for patients has been a real problem for the health service, and it has worsened considerably during the pandemic. The latest figures show there are 907,617 people waiting be treated or assessed by a consultant, an increase of 66,167 people or 8 per cent since the same time last year. The figures have prompted warnings from hospital consultants that the number could soon top a million.

Now, ahead of the Big Ideas conference, Stimul.ai is at a “tipping point” in its journey to the market, according to Naomh McElhatton, its co-founder and chief executive.

It only launched officially in August, but the firm has already started two pilot programmes in English hospitals. It’s impatient for further growth, McElhatton said.

“Me being me, I’m thinking: we should be in every hospital in Ireland at this stage. But the reality is we’re literally going 12 weeks. And we’ve covered a lot of ground.”

At the Big Ideas conference, which takes place in the RDS on Thursday, Stimul.ai will attend alongside other companies including Luminate Medical, a Galway-headquartered medtech, and MoveAhead, a spin-out of Dublin City University which specialises in children’s mobility.

The company believes it won’t be out of place, and is hoping to use the opportunity to pitch to investors as part of a push to raise €750,000 by the first quarter of next year. With that funding, Stimul.ai wants to hire up to 15 new staff in 2022 as it attempts to move from pilot to rollout across both individual hospitals and government bodies like the HSE.

Stimul.ai has its roots in a UCC project commissioned by the HSE to investigate ways of trimming down waiting lists in Irish hospitals. During the pilots, Professor Barry O’Sullivan, who was leading the research, proved how effective an algorithm could be in the area.

“In one instance, in an MRI department, they took the average waiting list from 281 days to 24 days,” McElhatton said. “It was amazing.”

Key to Stimul.ai’s proposition, McElhatton said, is that it did not deal in what ifs.

“The thing you notice about some departments is that they make assumptions as to why there’s an issue with their waiting list. They’ll often point to the lack of resources or funding, not enough porters or beds. But what our solution does is it works with the capacity and resources to hand,” she said.

“We don’t assume anything. We don’t say: ‘If you had 20 more doctors, you could get through it, or if you had €1 million more.’ We take the real-time information – the number of beds, clinicians, porters, nurses – and then we model based on the best way to schedule that clinic.”