Hills gives health another shot

Written by Kate McDonald on .

It was a little surprising this week to see that Hills Ltd, formerly famous for winches and a player for some time in nurse call, patient infotainment and IT security solutions, had taken a majority stake in Extensia, the small Brisbane company that developed the RecordPoint shared care record. We haven’t left Extensia in years and thought they had gone out of business, but they emerged in an industry survey on Tuesday as a case study in the value of medical software during the COVID pandemic in Australia.

Hills actually took over the stake in November 2021, but is only promoting it publicly now, Hills’ new CEO David Clarke tells us. The move is part of a refocus on the healthcare sector for Hills, which plans to divest itself of the IT security business, its most profitable asset. Hills has quality contracts for its patient infotainment, hospital television and nurse call systems in hospitals and elderly care, as well as a distribution agreement with the American company GetWell for its products. patient engagement, but clinical software is new business for the company. The company also authorized two longstanding, multi-million lawsuits against it, one dismissed in federal court and the other resolved to everyone’s mutual relief.

Hills took a similar but far more ambitious approach to the healthcare sector eight years ago, when former Telstra chief executive Ted Pretty was brought in to restructure the company, whipping the ropes at linen and the heavy manufacturing arm of the business. The restructuring didn’t go very well, it must be said, although Hills has been a going concern ever since. It now has new management and a new board, and Mr. Clarke says he wants more strategic acquisitions.

Extensia is an interesting company, especially because it has very few customers and has never been a major player in shared care records. It’s been around for a long time – it was prominent in Brisbane’s pre-NeHTA days, and its founders hoped it would be used for what eventually became the PCEHR/My Health Record. Mr. Clarke told us that the environment had changed, particularly in elderly and community care, and that there was now a clear need for a privacy-by-design system to bridge the gaps between the different compartmentalized systems.

Without seeking to do what Telstra Health has done, Hills appears to be joining other companies bringing together small businesses with niche features to deliver a range of capabilities to the booming healthcare and senior care markets. Others include Citadel Group and Constellation Software, and on a much smaller level Clanwilliam Group, of which Pulse+IT is a part. Interesting times. We wish everyone good luck.

It has certainly been a big week for health IT business, including the news that Lyniate, the new name of the owner of the Rhapsody integration engine originally developed by Orion Health, is merging with EMPI provider NextGate. The assets of the new company are widely used in Australia and New Zealand and we will follow the progress of the new entity with interest.

One of our most read stories this week was the news that the Gold Coast Primary Health Network, which has been developing its own data mining tool called Primary Sense for five years, plans to prioritize its facilities over to the PenCS tool, which is used by the majority of ISPs for PIP quality improvement purposes. We hear that a number of PHNs are considering upgrading from Pen to Primary Sense or Primary Sense 2, which the WA Primary Health Alliance is leading development on.

There’s an almighty battle going on out of the public eye over this, on the one hand the commercial interests that have long served their markets well versus the state-funded organizations that many don’t think not have a role in software development but are frustrated by the limitations – and license fees – of commercial offerings. This is a story to watch.

We’ve polled readers in the past to find out if they think RPSPs should be involved in commercial software development. Most said no.

This week we ask:

Will Hills succeed with its new healthcare-focused corporate strategy?

Vote here or leave your comments below.

Last week we asked: have IT solutions like cloud-based records and My Health Record helped in times of disaster or pandemic? Readers were split 50/50.

We also asked what practical experiences you had. Here is what you said.