‘Our product improves the working lives of everybody who uses it’
Small business can: Rotapal
The health service is facing an unprecedented crisis.
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Hospital waiting times are on the rise, lengthy trolley waits are becoming increasingly common and health officials are struggling to balance the books amid shrinking budgets.
Now, more than ever, it is crucial for those in charge of the NHS to find and implement more efficient ways of running the service.
A Belfast-based business is developing a system to help doctors manage their rotas that is aimed at cutting locum bills and making the best use of medical and administrative staff.
Rotapal is a Cloud-based on-call rota communication and management system designed by doctors, for doctors.
It crucially enables instant access to colleagues on calls, a platform to simply and efficiently build rotas, the power to swap shifts and plan leave in real time and the ability to conveniently plan for the future.
Harry Eaves (26) came onboard to develop the idea to allow the two doctors who came up with the technology to concentrate on their medical practice. He says: "They identified an issue with the management of rotas.
"The current system is paper-based and distributed by email, it's printed off and stuck on ward walls.
"However, every time a rota is distributed, it becomes obsolete almost as soon as it has been sent out as people swap and change their working hours.
"This, of course, generates problems.
"There is confusion about who is working where and when. This means that health trusts have to bring locums in at the last minute to fill in when someone doesn't turn up.
"The two doctors behind this couldn't find a solution on the market and that's when they came up with the idea for Rotapal and decided they would design it themselves."
Harry has a Masters in business management from Heriot-Watt in Edinburgh and was brought in to take the product from inception to market.
After a number of years, they are now at the stage where the system is on trial with the South Eastern Trust.
The programme is currently being used by 600 doctors in Northern Ireland, England and the Middle East.
Harry says the nature of the platform means that he has not had to dedicate time to marketing it.
"Because it manages doctors within a team, you tend to find that if one doctor starts to use it the whole team ends up using it," he says.
"Then as doctors rotate around they take the system with them as they move on to another unit or hospital.
"It really markets itself quite organically although we have been supported by the Northern Ireland Medical Dental & Training Agency, which gave us a bit of promotion."
As well as helping doctors to better manage their rotas, the system also helps non-medical staff make better use of their time.
Harry adds: "The switchboard needs to know who is working and when, so they can transfer calls through.
"At the moment, the rotas are collated on a daily basis. There are 90 clinical rotas in the Ulster Hospital in the South Eastern Trust so that indicates the scale of the operation.
"Depending on the size of the hospital, they could be spending two hours a day updating rotas with all the changes.
"Our platform provides real-time updates and takes away the need to spend all that time making sure the rotas are current.
"We have designed something that improves the working lives of everyone involved.
"It facilitates better communication, it improves patient safety and there is the potential for the NHS to make huge savings.
"The health service spends a ridiculous amount of money on locums every year.
"Obviously a lot of it is down to staff shortages, which we can't do anything about, but we estimate that a percentage is down to management of rotas.
"Perhaps a doctor doesn't realise that he is double booked across two sites and a locum is required at the last minute.
"We hope that our system can help to address that."
In order to take the idea forward, they have recently secured £150,000 seed funding.
They are also hoping to begin a number of pilot schemes in other trusts.
He said the fact that two doctors are behind the idea of the system has ensured it has been developed with the health service in mind.
"They are ideally placed to know what is required, what the problems are, and what can be put in place to address those issues," he says.
The system has also been developed so it is extremely user friendly.
"People can almost be afraid of new technology and having to learn how to use it but we have taken a simplistic approach so there really isn't a lot to learn," Harry adds.
"We are very keen to work with doctors and trusts to make sure it meets the needs of the people who are using it.
"It's been a huge ask making sure that we definitely know what users need and what their requirements are, and that we have built a platform that meets those requirements.
"We want to look at it from a user perspective and how we can best improve things."
As for Harry, he has experience working with start-ups. However, this is the first time he has taken a product from inception to market.
Harry is a past-pupil of Sullivan Upper School in Holywood, and studied business management at Heriot-Watt.
From the experience, he said he has discovered the importance of market research.
"I would say it's crucial to get to know your customer," he says. You need to know their problems and then work with them to develop a solution based on their needs.
"Without that you don't have a product, it's all about the product fitting the market.
"I'm excited to be a part of something that has the potential to really make a difference to a lot of people."