“COVID-19 has been really interesting, it has sped up the adoption and use of some of the solutions we have in Telstra Health, not just virtual healthcare but other parts of the portfolio as well,” Riley says.
“It’s not just about a consult with a GP or delivering paperless prescriptions, which is now in production, it’s also about the ecosystem of services we can deliver to not only help the patients but also practitioners and health services.
“A lot of people think Telstra is all about selling more mobile phones and all we do is tele-health but what Telstra Health does a lot more than that. What we are is an adjacency to the overall Telstra business and are now closely embedded to the aged care and healthcare systems of this country.”
The bullish outlook is far cry from where Telstra Health was in 2017, inches away from the chopping block and consigned by many as a failed experiment.
Having started its journey with much fanfare in 2013, Telstra Health is a product from a bygone era at the telco, one where it was looking to step out of its comfort zone and gain a foothold in the digital healthcare market.
With the blessings of Telstra’s former CEO David Thodey and then head of retail business, Gordon Ballantyne, Telstra Health subsequently picked up a bevy of digital healthcare software companies for $200 million and also snagged a lucrative contract from the Health Department to develop and run the NCSR (National Cancer Screening Register) in 2016.
However, weaving the 18 or so disparate acquisitions into a cohesive portfolio proved a challenge and the NCSR contract was beset with lengthy delays and cost blowouts. By the time David Thodey had made way for current Telstra CEO Andrew Penn, the health business had been pushed out to the periphery.
Mary Foley, the former head of St Vincent’s and Mater Health Sydney and a former National Health Practice Leader for PwC Australia, was brought in to lead the unit on 2017 and has since worked with Riley to put together a portfolio of digital services to fill the gaps in the market.
One such gap is the lack of a comprehensive electronic medical records system, especially in private and regional hospitals, which Foley says offers Telstra Health an opportunity to grow.
“The options available so far (to the hospitals) have been out of the US but we have developed an Australian solution that’s differently conceived, we are in about 20 hospitals at this stage and interest in the product has increased,” she says. “There are still large segments in hospital care, specialist medicine, allied health care (radiographers, chiropractors and physiotherapists) that have been slow to digitise.”
While the mobile business is the key revenue generator for Telstra, its decision to persist in the healthcare space may yet prove to be fruitful, especially as the pandemic hastens the digital drive in the sector. Telstra expects the health unit to break even in calendar 2020 and its overall trajectory has been positive, with revenues up around 36 per cent and earnings improving by 49 per cent in the 2019 financial year.
Foley says that working away from the public glare, and Telstra’s willingness to wear the costs of the underperforming unit, has given Telstra Health the breathing space it needed.
“I had already retired when I got the call to join Telstra Health, having spend so much of my career in the heath system I could see the potential of the business,” she says.
“We have worked very hard to build a startup culture inside the business, have been given a lot of freedom to operate and are now in a position to deliver.”
Technology and business journalist, with digital experience.
Stints at Business Spectator, The Australian. Better than average cook, pretty handy with knives and guitar.