How to solve the world’s health problems with your own business
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When Alison Hardacre launched HealthKit, a medical software program, she did so because she saw an opportunity to potentially change the lives of almost every person on the planet.
Her patient medical records business idea coincided with the rise of big data, and offered the potential to make a serious difference to the world's population through insights gained from massive amounts of curated health-related information.
Now, the finalist in the NAB Women's Agenda Leadership Awards sees an opportunity to make a difference on a global scale. "I saw the potential for the internet to change health. I understood the difficulties facing the system, doctors and patients," she tells Women's Agenda.
Hardacre decided to start her own business while she was working as a direct report to the Deputy CEO at a major bank. She'd had a successful and fairly satisfying career, but was hungry for more.
"I'd had the typical GM [general manager] career, developing my strategy and marketing skills," says Hardacre. "But I really wanted to do something that had an impact. I realised I wanted to run my own business."
It helped that her corporate experience – including a stint at Medibank – was supplemented with a background in health-related community work (in which she's been recognised as a former Young Australian of the Year). She knew what challenges faced the health sector, but it wouldn't be a quick transition.
"After deciding I wanted to start my own business, it took three years for the big, beautiful, perfect idea to come," says Hardacre.
That idea was to create a software platform that could digitise health administration and record keeping. HealthKit minimises administration work and frees up doctors to treat more patients with more comprehensive information on their history and similar cases. It enables patients to search for doctors based on expertise and experience rather than location and speciality.
The system also synthesises the (confidential) data of thousands of patients treated and creates a bank of information, providing insight into health unlike anything seen before.
"As we continue to grow, we start to see a clearer and more detailed picture of health and illness," says Hardacre. "The big drive for us is data analytics. Data could start to define the root causes of disease, look at treatments effectiveness, and see the big trends."
With those goals in mind, Hardacre and her team are focusing on developing their client base of doctors and healthcare professionals across the world in the coming years. "We're looking to increase our market penetration. We're all over Australia, and we've got practitioners throughout Europe, North America and Asia. We're going to keep focused to growing our reach and range," says Hardacre.
One of the biggest challenges for Hardacre's team is managing and maintaining software that has to work with multiple health systems and in multiple languages. Between Hardacre and her business partner, they speak seven languages, but the coding and technical requirements of the system are a challenge.
"Every country, indeed every state in Australia, has a different health system, and building software that works with all the systems was and is astronomically hard," says Hardacre. "Ultimately the problems of health are around the financing of health. A lot of the issues around dealing with funding bodies like Medicare and their UK, Canadian and New Zealand equivalents is about managing expectations. It's not sexy, but ultimately it's the details that change the world."
Hardacre has embraced ongoing research and the realisation that she'll always need to refresh and rework the core product. "We're never not going to be making tweaks to the software. You can look at Facebook and see that they're making tweaks all the time. We're not the Facebook of health, but as we grow we'll always be improving the service," says Hardacre.
The ongoing responsiveness and ultimate responsibility of running her own business has been a learning curve for Hardacre. "I didn't think there would be much of a transition between the corporate world and running one's own business. But there absolutely was," says Hardacre. "You have to do it all yourself, and think about absolutely everything and you have complete control."
Control can take a while to get used to, but Hardacre can vouch to new and emerging business owners that it's worth the journey. "It's easier on some levels, but you make a thousand decisions every year and every single one could send your business under. In the corporate world the decisions are ultimately made by the CEO or the board, and it takes a long time. But I make decisions quickly, and you do get better at it."
Having managed the transition from corporate to small business well, Hardacre is keen to encourage other women to start their own businesses. "We don't really have a startup culture in Australia. And as a woman, you get told more often that it's really hard and maybe you should try something else, but ignore the naysayers. Just go for it."