Boss Lady

Meet the sisters revolutionising medical communications

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Two young women have developed a life-saving technology for more accurate and timely medical communications.

In 2016, Sydney-based Krupa Bhagani and her sister Kruti Balakrishnan hit pause on promising corporate careers to care full-time for their terminally ill father. Within a year, the pair were co-founding a game-changing healthcare technology app for medical communications.

While caring for their ailing father and with Kruti living interstate so unable to help with day-to-dayresponsibilities, Krupa struggled to balance all of his various medical treatments, medications, and appointments.

With his vital care being managed by different teams in different practice areas and locations at different times, the sisters witnessed time pressures and ineffective technology leading to miscommunications and dangerous glitches in their dad’s care.

Low tech, high risk medical communications are common

Sadly, the sisters were not alone in experiencing first-hand the potentially life-threatening impact of the failings in medical communications in Australian healthcare. The Australian Commission for the Safety & Quality of Healthcare noted in 2016 that “communication errors [were] a major contributing factor in hospital sentinel events and are the most commonly cited underlying cause of complaints about the Australian health care system.”

Notably, in 2018, Hodgkin’s lymphoma patient Mettaloka Halwala was ultimately found to have died as a result of specialist scans showing lung toxicity being faxed to a wrong number.

“Medical communications breakdowns in this industry are occurring on a daily basis, predominantly because it’s still so heavily reliant on outdated communication platforms,” says Krupa.

“How can you rely on one-way medical communications channels like faxes and pagers (hello, 1990!) when the nature of healthcare requires teams to collaborate? Critical information is bound to be missed, which leads inevitably to patient suffering.”

Your doctor’s using what for medical communications?

New research has also shown that a staggering 95% of Australian doctors currently use Whatsapp, Facebook Messenger, iMessage, and other inherently insecure social messaging platforms to transmit confidential patient health information and coordinate patient care. 

Kruti describes the sisters’ a-ha moment. “It was during one of our many conversations around dad’s illness, his need for ongoing care, and the issues we were witnessing on a daily basis, that we ultimately realised the potential for a technology application to provide a potentially straight-forward solution to a massive nationwide problem.”

Fortuitously, Kruti’s husband, Vikram Balakrishnan, is a practising surgeon and was able to share intimate details of his lived experience with these outdated communication tools, including his reliance on social media messaging apps to manage patient care. 

It quickly became clear: it wasn’t the doctors whose communication was failing, it was the systems and frameworks within which they were forced, often merely by time constraints, to provide the highest levels of patient care that were expected of them.

A leap of faith

In a giant leap of faith, the sisters left behind the security of cubical life for good to spearhead the founding of Australia’s first highly-scalable, secure,smartphone-based messaging platform for clinical use.

The trio quickly became heavily involved in Australia’s start-up scene. They were awarded placements with both the SheStarts and HCF Catalyst accelerator programs in 2017, eventually opting for the HCF program, which brought with seed investment of $500,000. This capital, paired with established relationships with decision makers at a selection of hospital sites, enabled them to bring to market their product as quickly as they did.

And so in 2021, amidst the chaos of the coronavirus pandemic, the app was rolled out to over 3,000 staff at St George Hospital in Sydney and Western Health in Melbourne, and the impact since then has been remarkable.

In just the first eight weeks after launching, the team recorded:

~ an uptake of >90% among doctors
~ more than 1.5 million messages read
~ thousands of secure clinical photos shared

Big name investment key to growth

But it’s just the beginning for these ambitious sisters. Avant Mutual, Australia’s largest medical indemnity provider, has now invested in the company, a strategic investment that will allow acceleration of new feature development.

Avant’s backing will also allow the team to increase market penetration across all states in Australia, with the platform already being rolled out to more sites and the company’s first multi-site GP/specialist practice pilot in the pipeline.

Planning and prototyping for more complex features mimicking the paging system is underway. Plus they’re researching a number of unique clinical workflows and use cases before introducing other healthcare facilities to the app, to enable extended care teams to collaborate to improve outcomes for patients. 

“Avant’s ongoing support and deep medico-legal / risk management insights will ensure our product continues to evolve in a manner which reduces the risk for our customers,Kruti says, with Krupa adding ““To have Avant, such a huge name in healthcare, come in and lead the investment is enormous validation for us, and speaks to the scale of the opportunity and the success in execution thus far.

A father’s lasting legacy  

The sisters are as excited as they are determined. Their entrepreneurial and collaborative journey, which evolved quickly outside of the classroom, has been shaped directly by their perseverance and refusal to give up on the vision.

Committed to leveraging her many insights and newfound skills to contribute to digital health education and give back to other young startup founders, Krupa now mentors students in the UNSW New Wave program, which addresses the under-representation of women in entrepreneurship by empowering UNSW students, staff, and female (or those who identify as female) alumni to launch startups.

 

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