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Ireland-UK, Accelerator, 2020, EIT Health Ireland-UK

This digital health start-up is protecting frontline staff from COVID-19

22nd May 2020

An Irish start-up supported by EIT Health has launched an online portal that allows GPs and healthcare providers to treat people remotely, reducing their risk from COVID-19.

From collaborating with the HSE to support GPs with their consultations to garnering the interest of 600-plus healthcare providers, patient communication portal Wellola is delivering integrated healthcare at scale.

A physiotherapist and a doctor by trade, Wellola’s co-founders, Sonia Neary and Dr Greg Martin, have spent the last few years morphing their platform intended for physiotherapists into a patient portal for multiple healthcare settings – and it’s now being put to use in the fight against COVID-19 . Their goal is to keep healthcare providers safe by ensuring they can deliver remote care using a secure, digitalised system.

The GDPR-compliant patient-facing platform offers, among other functions, online booking, video consultations, document sharing and the opportunity for patients to complete forms and assessments – all while recognising the importance of a personal touch.

“Our tool is designed for your own GP or healthcare provider to connect with you, because that relationship is so important,” says Sonia Neary, when talking about what makes Wellola unique.

Built on the foundations of integrated care, it is unsurprising that the Dublin-based company were chosen to collaborate with Ireland’s public health and social care provider, the HSE, as the impact of COVID-19 grew. Wellola has since collaborated with Health Innovation Hub and the Irish Association of Counsellors and Psychotherapists to make their portal available to mental healthcare providers in Ireland also.

When talking about initial conversations with the HSE and their digital transformation team, Neary says: “GPs were really struggling with how to respond in light of COVID-19, how to best protect themselves and their patients. Phones were ringing off the hook with enquiries. Many GPs were in quarantine themselves and were trying to find a way to contribute to sharing the clinical workload. They had no secure way to attend to their patients’ remotely.”

Wellola’s collaboration with the HSE is helping to mitigate risk during the pandemic by triaging patients before they attend a GP practice or hospital. The portal also offers remote care provisions for patients who are self-isolating, as well as supporting GPs who may need flexible working options.

“While there are some products similar to ours on the market, Wellola can be tailored and white-labelled with relative ease; in this case, specifically for the Irish market, for the Irish public sector,” explains Neary, talking about the bespoke platform.

The HSE collaboration is now one of many. According to Neary, several primary care centres, mental health centres and hospitals are using Wellola to care for the different needs of patients.

She says: “Initially the platform was for GPs who were on the front line, but we started receiving inquiries from outpatient departments who wanted to maintain their care pathways, albeit remotely. Where possible, they’re trying to find other ways to care for their patient caseload rather than onsite.”

“And even allied health care providers, mental health care providers in particular, still need a way to connect and know that the environment in which they’re engaging in is still professional and secure.”

The agile nature of the care-enabling technology has attracted the interest of healthcare providers from across Europe.

In mid-April, Wellola partnered with a UK-based social prescribing platform, Elemental, to enable link workers and their communities to connect through video consultations.

The team is also working with sole-trading mental health care providers in the UK-Ireland region, as well as exploring collaborations in Portugal.

“We have been in touch with several acute hospitals in Portugal. New markets have presented themselves and we are delighted to be working with them,” says Neary.

Encouraged by the overwhelming response, the Wellola team has been able to enhance the system, adding new features based on feedback from users.

“We have received a lot of feedback and it has really helped us enhance the system. We didn’t have a waiting room function but in the next release that will be available so that the hospitals can still work in the way they’re used to when using our system,” explains Neary.

And while the digitalisation of integrated healthcare has long been discussed, the award-winning platform is demonstrating its vitalness for healthcare providers who want to deliver high quality care in every setting.

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