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'You can't wait for the world to come to you – you've got to go and get it'

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Andrew Murphy

Andrew Murphy

Andrew Murphy

HE ONCE laid roads and managed one of the world's most productive superglue plants, but Corkman Andrew Murphy has a plan to transform the foundations of the health system and he's sticking with it.

The chemical engineering graduate had no background in healthcare when he spotted a glaring gap in the market – there is no standard electronic way for Irish hospitals to claim from health insurance firms.

He quit his steady job, remortgaged his home and set about making his vision a reality.

The 37-year-old father is now certainly toasting his own good health as the chief executive of Slainte Healthcare.

Eight years on, half of the almost €2bn being paid in claims by Irish private health go through Claimsure, a technology that will be rolled out in every public hospital by the end of the year,

But it is his aim that hospitals worldwide use electronic patient notes which he believes will double his turnover to an expected €20m by 2015.

Vitro – which he simply describes as putting paper on glass – is already being used in the Middle East and Australia, with plans under way to break into Brazil and the UK.

Murphy says his high tolerance for ambiguity is one of the secrets of his success, along with a strong faith that any problem can be figured out.

"But ultimately it's persistence," said Murphy.

"Particularly in the first couple of years I did as much work as I could getting in to the hospitals, understanding how they are running, having face time with as many people as possible, convincing, cajoling and trying to make things happen.

"You can't just sit back and wait for the world to come to you, you've got to go out there and get it."

Murphy, who funded himself through college with a bar job, recalls how he was part of a "road gang" when he first graduated from CIT and naively thought he'd get work in one of Cork's many plants.

"I was sitting on a roller in Hollyhill in Cork doing an estate and being pestered by kids when I got a call to say they'd offered me the job up in Loctite," he said about the superglue plant in Ballyfermot.

"I actually took a pay cut for it."

Aged just 22, he was soon responsible for the operation of the manufacturing plant and charged with finding ways to improve the yield and chemical processes. Within four years Murphy replaced the plant manager and drove efficiency, quality and safety – with the side effect of reducing costs and staff numbers.

"In terms of output I think we were the largest cyanoacrylate producer at the time in the world in terms from a single plant," he added.

Murphy continued his studies with a MBA at Smurfit Business School, where he learned "just as much" from his fellow students including successful MDs.

"It opened my eyes," he continued.

"I thought 'I'm not too far away from these guys'."

As part of one project he assessed how St James's Hospital recouped money from health insurance patients and sketched out how a software programme could work.

When he spotted none was already on the market he pitched his idea to his lecturer, entrepreneur David Nash.

"I drew up a business plan, convinced my wife it was a no brainer to do, re-mortgage the house to raise what capital I could and eventually I resigned," Murphy said. "I started work in earnest on November 3, 2006."

With a verbal agreement from St James's on a "no foul, no fee" basis, Murphy got software developers to create his vision.

It was finally installed in August 2007 and over the next four months St James's recouped €6m more than the same time a year earlier.

"I thought with that kind of results there would be a big queue at the door, but I'd never dealt with the public sector before. People thought I was running a two-bit company with no track record," he said.

Zoom forward, Nash is now Slainte's largest investor and chairman of the company.

Murphy has brought Slainte from its first client to becoming a global company, achieving 1,639pc growth in the five years between 2009 and 2013. Accounts expect to show a €10m turnover and €1.35m profit.

He employs 100 people at its head office in Sandyford and in hospitals nationwide, with another 80 posts being filled this year to develop the Vitro software for more countries.

The system is already in 11 hospitals in the Abu Dhabi health service (Seha), in the Chris O'Brien Lifehouse cancer centre in Sydney, and is set to go live in 24 facilities in the Calvary Care Group in Australia.

It has also been donated to Operation Smile, an international children's charity treating facial deformities such as cleft lips and cleft palates all

"My job over the next two years is to introduce Vitro to as many markets as possible and to significantly grow that customer base," said Murphy.

"Our aim is by 2016 to have 300 sites with Vitro worldwide."

It's a tricky time in the health service, especially for patients, but Murphy does not think it's the end of the private health insurance market. "People are downgrading insurance, not giving it up, and that affects private hospitals more," he said.

The businessman believes the Government scored an own goal when they scrapped the tax relief on insurance premiums by sending out the wrong message.

He also thinks the charging of private patients in public beds has introduced "a lot of complexity" in the market.

"I think it gives the opportunity for the insurance companies to assume they will be paying more. I'm not entirely convinced they will be," he said.

"But having said that, I see while there have been rises (in premiums), there have been a lot more competitive plans come out.

"The sooner there is a move towards proper money following the patient and UHI (Universal Health Insurance), you can potentially allow the private hospitals compete for public work on a fair basis."

He says lengthy delays in insurance payouts stem from the quantity of paperwork needed from medical staff and the tightening of rules from firms.

Recent figures show €230m is owed in fees. "I think there is a better way and I'm working on that," Murphy says.

"This problem would go away if electronic medical records were in use, which drove us toward our Vitro platform."

With two taps on the screen of a tablet or desktop, doctors can be in a patient's notes, ordering tests and filling in key data – which could be linked to the HSE's proposed national early warning score guidelines, the lack of which was highlighted following the tragic death of Indian dentist Savita Halappanavar.

Murphy has plans to pilot the software in St Luke's Hospital in Kilkenny, hopefully with the backing of the Health Innovation Hub, and wants universities to start teaching the system so it's second nature when medics hit the ward.

Hospitals are charged an initial installation fee of up to €50,000, and then a 20 cent charge per page – saving on massive upfront costs.

"We are so convinced it will work we are willing to take the hit now," Murphy says.

"The benefit for the hospital is that there is an incentive for us to make sure someone is on site to make sure everyone is happy and can use it and they can stop paying if not happy.

"There's very little financial risk, but a huge upside."

Irish Independent