Guest: Robert Grey
Presenter: Wayne Bucklar
Guest Bio: Robert Grey founded Austco Communication Systems (“Austco”) in 1986, and was responsible for increasing revenues to $19 million prior to the Company’s acquisition by Azure Healthcare Limited on 1 January 2007. Mr Grey returned to run Azure Healthcare Limited in October 2011 as Executive Chairman and under his stewardship more than doubled revenues in the first three years. Mr Grey retains a significant shareholding in Azure Healthcare Limited.
Segment overview: In today’s Health Supplier Segment, know more the services provided by Azure Healthcare from its Executive Charmain Robert Grey. The company is an international provider of healthcare communication and clinical workflow management solutions such as the Tacera nurse call solution for healthcare facilities. They are the the largest manufacturer of call systems in the southern hemisphere.
Health Professional Radio – Azure Healthcare
Wayne Bucklar: You’re listening to Health Professional Radio. My name is Wayne Bucklar and today my guest is Robert Grey. Robert is the executive chairman of Azure Healthcare, a firm headquartered in Melbourne in Australia but with a global footprint. Welcome to Health Professional Radio Robert.
Robert Grey: Thank you very much Wayne. It’s a pleasure to be invited on.
W: Now Robert, as you know most of our audience are clinicians, they’re generally working in hospitals. But I’m not sure they would have heard of your products too broadly, they may have used them but not have heard of them. Tell us what your product range is.
R: We supply Nurse Call solutions, patient engagement systems and staff workflow solutions for hospitals and aged care facilities.
W: One of those things that you use every day and never particularly worry about until it stops working.
R: Oh yes, if it stops working and it can be very very serious. Someone could actually die if there was no a response to a “code blue” or a call for help. So yes, we are very very important to the aspects of a hospital.
W: Now Robert, what’s the geographical footprint for your business?
R: Well our headquarters in Melbourne and we also have offices in New Zealand, Singapore, United Kingdom, Canada and the USA. Since our business started, Austco has installed our products in over eight and a half thousand sites across 60 countries. We’re currently involved in some very important projects worldwide including the Children’s Hospital in Perth, The Hospital For Sick Kids in Toronto, and the brand new Ng Teng Fong General Hospital – it’s about a 700 bed hospital in Singapore.
W: Now we should just get the brands clear here, Azure Healthcare is the listed parent company but you mentioned Austco?
R: Austco is the … company that I founded and then it was bought by a public company about seven years ago. The Austco is the manufacturing entity and it’s the main business in actual fact of Azure Healthcare. Azure Healthcare has another company called “Sedco” that is also a manufacturer of healthcare solutions. And so within our portfolio – we have two companies Austco and Sedco.
W: I see. And for people who may be familiar with your product or maybe using your products, what are the brand names that they would see?
R: They would know Medicom, they would know Tacera and they would know Sedco, which probably are the pre-eminent brands in Australia and New Zealand, there’d be more of those sites installed in Australia and New Zealand or any other brand at all.
W: I see. Now “Nurse Call” is one of those as I said earlier, one of those things that you kind of don’t notice until you need it. But what are the issues that you find that clinicians need to be aware of with your products?
R: I think, well that’s a very very interesting question. Clinicians, there’s more to a Nurse Call System than just the bells and buzzers and buttons on the wall. They’r actually a cross infection point for infection.
W: Oh, good point.
R: Because the staff are using them all the time, different staff are using exactly the same buttons in transferring from room to room and patients are using the product as well. And one of the things that we developed very, very early in the piece is antibacterial compounds to use in our products so that all of our nurse call products – the ones that nurses touch, the ones that patients touch, have either silver ion embedded into the plastics or they have a product into the silicone parts which is also an antibacterial made by GE Toshiba Silicones. Now infections control is probably one of the biggest issues that any clinician will know, it’s one of the biggest issues in a hospital. And we’re the first company in the world to actually develop products to actually help with infection control and I think we’re still one of the only companies in the world that does that.
W: You’re listening to Health Professional Radio, my name is Wayne Bucklar. I’m in conversation with Robert Greym the Executive Chairman of Azure Healthcare. And we’ve been talking about Nurse Call products and in fact interestingly the infection control aspects of Nurse Call product. Now I have to confess Robert, my clinical days as a nurse are many decades behind me but the idea that these are infection transfer points is something that I hadn’t considered.
R: Most people don’t. Probably, I’m probably a little bit closer to be infection control issue. I was a young engineer of about 25, when my father went to a hospital for a routine cancer operation and caught a “hospital acquired infection” and didn’t leave hospital.
W: I see.
R: And so it’s something that I’ve been aware of for many years. My sister is also a nurse, so we have a fairly close involvement in healthcare as a family. And then when I started this particular business, one of the things I thought of adding in was a something to help the infection control. And as I said, we were the first company in the world to do it and we’re still one of the only companies in the world that actually does this.
W: Now you mentioned that you put additives into the silicones and the plastics. What’s the lifetime of an additive in terms of infection control? Don’t they just wear off?
R: Oh not particularly, the additives we use are lifetime. And you’d expect the lifetime of a Nurse Call System to be about 20 years.
W: That’s a spectacular selling point I have to say.
R: It’s a, it is actually a spectacular selling point. If you look at the cost of infection, I think in Victoria alone, it’s causing more than 40 million dollars a year and additional cost if a patient gets a hospital acquired infection. In the US it’s even more serious and actual fact the companies that provide the health insurance in the US won’t pay for your hospital stay if you actually catch a hospital acquired infection. So there’s actually a very, very big push in the US particularly on infection control. And we also manufacture products and include products in our portfolio that track nurses and make sure that they’re complying with infection control by actually going to the hand base and using and washing the hands so both pre and post patient visit.
W: I see. So that you actually track, where nurses are moving?
R: We track the fact that the nurse use the alcoholic gel in the room or they went and they were in the middle of the washing facilities in that particular room.
W: It’s one way to get to compliance I guess. The health industry is notorious for being very slow to adapt some of these compliance things, I think hand washing itself took 30 or 40 years to become common.
R: Well nowadays there is a serious, serious push on being able to audit that process. And one of the other things would be actually added into our product which is a world first is an “audit cleaning process.” As I say all of our devices are touched by nurses and different nurses at one time or another, let’s say they enter a room, to either make call or cancel a call. Like all things even though we have infection control additives in our product, you still need to spray and wipe.
R: To get the surface contamination off. And on our product we have a facility where you press the ‘cancel button’ for five seconds and puts it in a cleaning mode which means you can then spray and wipe. Press the button, nothing works for about 8 seconds then it comes back on. But more importantly, the fact that you’ve cleaned that particular point goes to a file … an auditable file that says that point has been cleaned by the cleaning staff. So not only are we tracking nurses on their health compliance, we are also tracking the cleaners on compliance – in cleaning the devices that could cause cross infection.
W: It’s obvious to me Robert there’s much more to nurse call than what crossed my mind.
R: (laugh) Most people think of the bells and buzzers.
R: Yes, there’s far more to it.
W: Yes, see I thought the most important thing you do in a day would be to figure it out and what the note would be the played when someone push the button, I thought that would be the fun of it, with 85 hundred sites worldwide I thought this would be a bit like the person who composed the reboot note for Windows computer or something you know it would be a 2 second composition and famous worldwide. But there’s obviously a lot more to it than meets my idea.
R: Well, would, we have an Australian standard and the tones and the length of tones is actually specified within the Australian Standard. I was one of the founding members of the Australian Standard Team that actually designed what is now a common standard for Nurse Call Systems within Australia and New Zealand.
W: Now Robert, my favorite question of interview is about misconceptions because in every industry there are misconception that drive people nuts and keep them awake at night. What are the biggest misconceptions about your products and services that drives you nuts and keeps you awake at night?
R: Well a few decades ago, I mean Nurse Call Systems were basically communication from the patient bed to the nurse station, it was either sound like buzzers. The systems since then has been evolving and even the call function is the same, the systems nowadays have far more capabilities and is considered one of the best communication vehicles in healthcare facilities today because it’s gonna be a hundred percent reliable. Unfortunately for most projects the Nurse Call selection process is solely based on cost and not many people actually say “We’ll worry about infection control. We’ll worry about cleaning control.” So most facilities don’t understand the importance of considering the other aspects of the system that we’re installing, so they do have feature I regret. For example when you’re choosing a Nurse Call System it is important to verify the system compliance with the National Standard. I know that sounds like a no brainer, but the reality is a lot of people don’t even consider the national standard. Having compliant Nurse Call Systems improve patient safety, it also prevents adverse events. Additionally if you have a non-compliant equipment and a patient or staff suffers harm or loss of life and it’s attributed to that system, then the facility may need to provide substantial compensation to the person or family. Another aspect that’s very important nowadays is the consideration of integration between Nurse Call Systems and other data and communication systems. If you link the Nurse Call System with other platforms, healthcare facilities can improve work flow, eliminate repetitive and mundane tasks. also improve the quality of care and job satisfaction. Like if you link say a wireless telephone to the Nurse Call System, then you have immediate contact with the patient via voice to say “Well yes I’m busy next door but I’ll be there a minute or two.” And that immediately increases the patient’s satisfaction score because I’ve been contacted, I spoke to someone, I know what’s happening someone’s goanna come see me in a minute or two.
W: And with a 20 year life, I’m guessing that if you are involved in the procurement of one of these for a hospital, it’s a decision that going to come back and hunt you for a long time if you don’t get it right.
R: That is true. I mean you have a long time to regret, very short time is usually spent on making the selection but the regret can last for life of the solution. The reality is 20 years is fairly common in Australia and some overseas countries. In the US, no it’s about a 7 or 8 life cycle. The US is very very competitive in their healthcare. They really use a lot of marketing, it’s mostly private, there’s a lot of marketing in it and they need an advantage moving forward so they’re forever refreshing their wards including the communication systems and they are looking for some quite serious return on investment for something like our solution.
W: And I guess it is one of the things that’s kind of obvious to patients. It’s something that patients think is very important.
R: Yes, it is. If you look at some of the systems that are regulations overseas, you’ll find that looking at patient engagement and in the fact the patient is happy is important for a private hospital. Like our school system here in US, you can go online and see patient satisfaction scores for hospitals and select a hospital. I know when we put our kids in a school here I always give a… to mentor and here we look at the satisfaction scores of parents and it was very high for the school we chose to put our children in. The same thing patients now get to go online and check satisfaction scores in certain countries, specifically in the US.
W: And you’ve got to say you’d expect that to be an increasing trend in other countries around the world too.
R: I would think so, especially for private hospitals. And the whole world I don’t think can afford the high cost of healthcare that most people are expecting without having some level of insurance, like we’re doing in Australia with the fact that if you’re a wealthy person, if you don’t take health insurance you’ll get taxed and at the same thing is happening in the US. And that will happen in most countries worldwide and it will become down to hospitals become a competitive business as they are in the US.
W: Now Robert time is about to beat us, but how can people get in touch with you?
R: Well you can go online and our website is Austco.com, www.austco A U S T C O – it stands for Australian Company or it did when we first started the business many many years, 31 years ago. In the US it now stands for A US Technology Company because in the US not a lot of people know where Australia is. It’s not that place next to Germany.
W: Yeah, that with lots of mountains and skiing apparently, yes.
R: (laughing) So yes, being an Australian Company is great in Australia, we now actually have a fairly large operation in the US we have a factory, we have our research and development is now based in the US. And we manufacture to the FDA medical device standards in our factory in the US. So being an American business is actually very important to us in the US.
W: So because I always get into trouble from people when I mention websites and they say “Oh I didn’t have a pen handy.” I’ll do it again it’s www.austco A U S T C O dot com and that’s the best way if you’re looking to get in touch with my guest this morning. Robert, can I say your passion about this is very clear to hear and it’s been a pleasure having you on.
R: Well Wayne thank you very much for inviting me. I feel very privileged to be on your show.
W: Our pleasure. We look forward to doing it again sometime in the future.
W: My name is Wayne Bucklar, you’ve been listening to Health Professional Radio. I’ve been having a chat to Robert Grey, Executive Chairman of Azure Healthcare and Robert’s primary range a products are about Nurse Call, and he’s a man with vast experience and passionate about his work and products. If you’ve missed our interview, a transcript available on our website at www.hpr.fm, there’s also a SoundCloud archive of the audio and you can find the story on YouTube as well. This is Health Professional Radio.