Ensuring the Improvement of Standards and Service Levels of Assistive Technology Suppliers [Interview][Transcript]


Guest: Chris Sparks
Presenter: Wayne Bucklar
Guest Bio: In a career of more than 30 years with 16 years in various managerial appointments, Chris Sparks has developed an ability to apply sound commercial practice to deliver solid and sustainable business performance. Chris has developed substantial businesses from the ground up, having identified new opportunities and developed and executed strategic plans to achieve success.

Segment overview: In today’s Health Supplier Segment, we are joined by Assistive Technology Suppliers Australasia Executive Officer Chris Sparks to shed further light as to what are the industry body focus and goals. ASTA represents businesses in the home healthcare and rehabilitation industries. They conduct Business Builder information seminars to education their member base as well as train healthcare professionals in assessing and specifying the best assistive technology solutions. They work with governments at all levels to ensure the quality and value in assistive technology solutions for people with a disability, their carers and funding bodies.


Health Professional Radio


Wayne Bucklar: You’re listening to Health Professional Radio with Wayne Bucklar. My guest is Chris Sparks. Chris is the executive officer at Assistive Technology Suppliers Australia Incorporated. Now that’s an association, let’s find out what it does. Chris welcome to Health Professional Radio.

Chris Sparks: And good morning Wayne.

Wayne: Tell me about the association.

Chris: Our association kicked off back in 2000 to represent a fairly unique corner of the Australian healthcare industry. Those people that supply assistive technology previously referred to as aids and equipment. So everything from wheelchairs and senior’s rollator thru to home care beds, pressure care, lifting devices, motor vehicle modifications etc.

W: Now what’s the role of the association?

C: Our role really is to take what is primarily an industry of small to medium size enterprises trying and galvanize their knowledge and expertise to work with government, to develop better policies in this area. A significant proportion of assistive technology is government funded and given the experience and the expertise of the importers, wholesalers, manufactures and retailer. We think we have a lot to offer in terms of talking the government get things right.

W: And it is important when you deal with government that you recognize their firm preference for dealing with a single voice.

C: Yeah, absolutely. I mean before we really started to engage with government, it was very difficult for individual businesses to get a hearing, to a great degree because of the obvious conflicts of interest and ATSA’s provided that vehicle and has been quite successful in a variety of areas.

W: So it’s a membership based organization, the members of those suppliers of the technology?

C: Yes, we have a hundred members now nationally which we think is almost a 3rd of the businesses dedicated to assistive technology in this country. And they all pay to be members and they pay a varying fee based on the size of their organization. And they also importantly agree to abide by our industry code of practice.

W: You’re listening to Health Professional Radio with Wayne Bucklar, I’m talking with Chris Sparks. Chris is the executive officer at well we’ll call it “ATSA” for short as we have a chat but I’ll tell you what it is in a long format the Assistive Technology Suppliers Australia Incorporated and this is a member driven association. And Chris if it’s got a third of the potential members as members that’s really a representative voice, no one could complain about you not having an adequate input into that.

C: It is quite substantial and also we have a very open door policy Wayne, so that most of our industry have been to consultations, the information that we send out, it goes to both members and non-members. There’s a small but significant segment of our industry due to religious affiliations do not join associations like ours, but they will support us in many ways. So we think it’s important that we keep our door open to as many businesses so we can hear from as many players as possible.

W: Now Chris most of our audience are clinicians of one type or another we’ve have a lot in acute care and some in aged care. What’s the take away message for them today as a result of having this chat with you?

C: Well I think the critical thing that we struggle to get across is that the provision of assistive technology is primarily a services based industry. And time and time again we see governments always with an eye to saving and efficiency, shape their procurement initiatives as if their buying widgets not services. So unfortunately you can’t treat assistive technology as if you’re sourcing cafe backups or paper clips for instance because depending on the complexity of the technology there’s an extremely high service component. And that message hasn’t always been easy to work to get across.

W: That’s a perspective that I hadn’t considered. But as you explained it, it certainly makes sense to me. Now Chris I understand you also do a big public event the Daily Living Expo.

C: Yeah, the name last year Wayne to more reflect current terminology and the push towards the NDIS in Australia so it’s now known as the “Independent living expo.”

W: Uh huh.

C: We’re very much reinvigorated in 2015 with events in both Sydney and Brisbane with a strong focus on consumers of assistive technology and their family. So if we stage it each year, it alternates between Sydney and Melbourne, it’s always in May. And next year’s event in 2016 we’re returning to the Melbourne showroom. And Sydney this year we’ve got over 2,000 people over the 2 days at Sydney it was it is by far the largest event of its type in Australia brings together over a hundred exhibitors. And we run a clinical education program where allied health practitioners can also get continuing development points.

W: And I guess if you are a clinician in this area you could spend an awful a lot of time visiting the showrooms of a hundred exhibitors or you could pop over to the exhibitions for the afternoon.

C: Oh absolutely, it’s a rare opportunity for health practitioners and also for those with disability or seniors who perhaps need something special to improve their independence to turn up and see the events are completely free, there’s free onsite packing. And see pretty much the cream of the crop all in one location.

W: And Chris my favorite question in every interview is about misconceptions. Is there a misconception amongst your customers, clients, members, patient that drive you nuts and keep you awake at night?

C: Well as I lead into earlier Wayne, the idea that services are not a significant part of our industry is a constant battle ground for us, combined with the fact that the prices in Australia are high, now we’ve dealt with this for many, many years and fortunately The Queensland Competition Authority in 2014 did a deep dive into the pricing of assistive technology in Australia which we encouraged and supported. It’s a completely independent examination and they did a far reaching study and proved that compared with similar markets, Australia is in fact one of the lowest cost countries in the world, which with a population of 22 million, so distant for the major European and American market places where most of the IT is now manufactured, that’s a pretty amazing fact.

W: It is, it’s surprising and I can understand why it’s a misconception. Let’s hope we can dispel a little bit of that misconception today amongst our listeners.

C: Let’s hope so Wayne.

W: Chris it’s been a pleasure having you with us today. How can people get in touch with you?

C: The easiest way is always by the web. And our website is simply atsa A T S A dot org dot au (atsa.org.au) there’s links in that to our expo sites for those who would be interested. There’s also some policy papers which we developed to try and educate people new to the assistive technology work space, market place in Australia on the internet, they’re all are short and… they’re a good brief for you.

W: Now because I’m always getting in trouble for saying domain names and URLs without sufficient warning, I’ll say it again www.atsa.org.au

C: That one.

W: If you just missed my conversation with Chris Spark the executive officer at Assistive Technology Supplies Australia Inc, then the good news we have a transcript for you on our website at www.hpr.fm there’s a transcript of this interview. There’s also a SoundCloud archive and the YouTube archive where you can hear the full interview again. My name is Wayne Bucklar, you’re listening to Health Professional Radio.

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