Alere Healthcare Connections provides occupational health services, including workplace medicals and drug and alcohol screening, to organisations across a range of industries in the UK. Often these are markets where employees’ fitness to work has critical safety implications.
In 2012 Healthcare Connections, the original family business founded in Buckinghamshire in 1996, was acquired by Alere Toxicology. This company in turn is owned by Alere Inc, a global provider of diagnostic products and connected health solutions.
Previously, Healthcare Connections had used minimal technology to manage its bookings and client reporting. The company had grown organically and relied largely on the same manual processes and spreadsheets it had always used to manage client relationships, organise its workload, and provide feedback after an organisation’s medical or toxicity screening programme.
Its inherent professionalism and attentiveness to customers meant that Healthcare Connections was still able to provide a comprehensive and reliable service, but the company wanted to drive up the value being offered to its clients and felt its manual processes were beginning to hamper efficiency.
“When I joined the company, there were lots of manual processes, an Access database for booking information, and lots and lots of spreadsheets,” says Elaine Taylor, Customer Relationship Manager at Alere Healthcare Connections.
In addition to administrative time-savings, having a more coordinated and automated system would introduce extra safeguards, ensuring that the right equipment was always sent out in advance of appointments, and that the right skills were matched to the job in hand.
“The existing system was able to accommodate the booking of screening tests, but the results or certificates were being produced in Word and stored on a shared drive. There was no real possibility of extracting management information,” she explains. “We wanted to move towards a full health surveillance and case management system – something that we could build on to manage employer medical programmes, preventative health schemes, and drug and alcohol screening test collections.”
This comprehensive occupational health management system would need to be able to cater for the specific needs of particular clients, she adds. “A big client of ours has very specific needs which we have to capture at the time of the booking,” she says. “We have to be able to provide feedback not just on the outcomes of the tests and screening we do, but also financial information.
“We wanted to be able to receive lab results directly into the system too, via an XML feed,” she adds. “Essentially, we were looking for an all-round system that could track and manage everything from the initial client requirement to complete management information – about how many appointments are being booked and attended, how many screenings have been done, how many were positive and what for, and so on.
“We needed to be able to deliver these responses quickly to customers, without having to trawl through lots of spreadsheets to collate the information and turn it into fancy graphs. The goal was to be more efficient internally and provide a superior service to our clients.”
A web-based occupational health management system that includes an online booking facility and an XML feed to receive lab results.
With the company’s acquisition by Alere in the pipeline, the budget for a new system was tight. The customer relationship team had already established that an off-the-shelf wouldn’t be flexible enough to satisfy clients’ differing requirements, so it took to the market to look for a bespoke software development company that could design and create a fit-for-purpose solution.
“We saw four potential suppliers,” Ms Taylor says. “One company was hugely expensive, and two of the others were quite small which presented a risk. We chose DCSL Software because, as well as being affordable and a decent size, we preferred the technology they were using – Microsoft .Net. We also liked their presentation and the people we met. They made it clear that they understood exactly what we wanted to do, which was vitally important.”
DCSL Software’s approach to the development process appealed, too. “We really liked the planning, and the specification they did. The designer and developer were absolutely brilliant,” she says. “They worked up a prototype as we went along, at various meetings where they captured our needs.
“It was a great way of doing it, especially as we are not very technical which made us very reliant on the DCSL team. The DCSL architects drew on the screen as we spoke to make sure we captured everything, as well as coming up with ideas of what we could do and how we could do it. The early prototype meant we could see what the finished system would look like and how it would work. It accelerated the whole process and we soon had a full specification ready for approval.”
The first phase of the considerable system, the medical and screening booking facility, went live in March 2012. “Carolynne, the lead developer, was fantastic with us – and so patient,” Ms Taylor says. “We kept changing our requirements as we went along – for example, as we won new clients who then wanted something special – and she handled the change management incredibly well.”
The new system is web based, so can be securely accessed online from anywhere. DCSL Software hosts and manages the software remotely too, so Alere doesn’t have to worry about how it works or get involved in technical support.
As a result of using the new automated system, Alere Healthcare Connections is much more efficient in its management of client activities. “We don’t have to sit populating spreadsheets, and there’s only one place to look for information,” Ms Taylor says.
There is a lot of flexibility too, because the system is web based, she adds. “The other day I got a call at 7.10am from a colleague who needed some information before a client meeting. I was able to log into the system from home and give them the numbers directly. Having access to everything online is a real, real bonus. We can be doing medicals on a client’s site at 10pm, and if a nurse phones with a question we can log in from wherever we are and get the information straight away. That’s invaluable.
“Before, we were very fragmented and disjointed in the way we handled everything. Now there is a proper workflow,” she continues. “For example, the system has a dashboard which alerts people when the next action is due – so we’re not relying on people to remember to do something. So, if someone is going out on site to perform screening, the right equipment will already be there. It also prevents wrong actions being taken, because we can see who has the right skills to perform a particular task,” Ms Taylor explains. “If the requirement is to take blood, it only lets us choose and book nurses who are qualified to do this.”
The system has also eliminated clerical errors, such as bookings being made for January of the wrong year. “It’s definitely saving us a lot of time,” she notes. “We’re not wasting effort fire-fighting.”
In a competitive market, being able to go the extra mile for customers is crucial and this has become the focus of Alere Healthcare Connections’ vision. “We may not be a Bupa, but we’re no longer a small player and we’ve got a lot of ambition,” Ms Taylor says. “We have to keep evolving and adding new value to maintain and improve our position. Our new parent company is setting high standards. Customer service is very important to Americans, so it’s great that we’re on the right track. They’re impressed with what we’re doing.”
DCSL Software is currently working closely with the company on a major second phase of the system’s development, to deliver the fuller health surveillance and case management facilities.
In the meantime, other improvements are ready to go. “The facility for clients to book online is already there, and something we’ll be promoting soon to add to the customer experience,” Ms Taylor says. Clients will also be able to complete questionnaires online, she adds.
Of the company’s experience of working with DCSL Software, she concludes, “The technologies and techniques they use are excellent, and our relationship with the development team is fantastic. The team at DCSL really listen, and provide solutions that address our particular situation. It’s a very fruitful partnership.”