1/2014

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A farmer, Bluetooth and more efficient hospitals: How caring about someone turned into a business

It all began when Sami Herrala became concerned about the safety of his father, who was working on his farm at the time. What if something happened?

“At the time I was working in radio tech product development and started wondering what sort of alarm system would work best in unexpected situations on the farm”, explains Herrala. “You may not be able to reach the phone, and wearable alarm bracelets or similar devices may end up uncharged in a bedside drawer once the novelty wears off. The system shouldn’t use much energy but it should be as discreet as possible. It should be extremely simple to use. And it should be with you all the time.”

This was the beginning of 9Solutions’ current product line. The idea stuck and grew from an alarm system for elderly farmers into a larger concept, prompting CEO-to-be Herrala to contact a few investors and possible co-founders – and things moved onwards rapidly. It became clear that there was definitely a need for their product.

Everything – and everyone – in their right place

“If you think about public health care and especially hospitals, there’s the juxtaposition of budget restraint and an increasing need for treatment as the population ages. At Oulu University Hospital, 80% of all expenditure goes on personnel. But you can’t just reduce the staff, because it leads to a risk of unsafe treatment in situations where staff are needed above the minimal number of personnel. However, what can be done is to improve the efficiency of those staff.”

For example, a large hospital may have only a few specialized devices such as patient lifters; the devices are expensive and may take up a lot of precious space, so there’s no need to let them lie unused in a storage room. But when there’s just three or four of them, they may be anywhere in the hospital compound where they’re usually needed. “This means that the staff usually have to look for the device, then check if it’s currently needed where it is, find out whether it be moved temporarily, is there a prioritization of use, those kinds of things. Half a dozen nurses can look for a patient lifter for a good half an hour, and that saps personnel efficiency – people trained to take care of customers spend valuable time just looking for stuff. Ridiculous.” The same goes for devices that simply have to be available when needed, such as infusion pumps: when the location of every single pump is known, the quantity and the pre-order are easier to handle, and the hospitals doesn’t have to have an excessive number of devices just because there’s no other way to ensure they’re there when they are needed.

The idea behind 9Solutions’ product line is simple. Individual tags with a unique ID connect to a network of nodes, which form a wireless, self-organizing network using standardized Bluetooth technology. This network connects to the 9Solutions Cloud via their gateway. Energy consumption is minimal due to using Bluetooth Low Energy technology, and the data transfer is secure and efficient.

This means that not only does medical equipment never get lost, but the patients are treated faster, there is no staff overlap regarding a patient, and the alarms and situations that arise are more easily recognized. The system speeds up even mundane situations such as queuing for a check-up. “Let’s say there are 20 people waiting for a blood test, and five of them are also scheduled for an X-ray, but the order of procedure is test first, then X-ray. With a real time knowledge of staff and patient location and situation, you can easily switch things so that these patients aren’t sitting around waiting; instead, they can go straight to X-ray and come back for the blood tests.”

Keeping it simple means growth

With a clip-on alarm tag, patients are more easily reached when in need of assistance, and physically stationary alarm devices become redundant as the system is just as mobile as the people using it. If a patient falls down on the way to the cafeteria and requires assistance, the staff know about the situation with a press of a button.

“The main thing is to keep things simple. The system doesn’t have a single button or feature that hasn’t been thought out with the client company. Everything is customizable, and the client can decide on the methods of use. Also, everything can be reassigned if the client so desires. We offer full product service 24/7, regardless of whether it’s maintenance, customization or a need for assistance with something.”

When asked how they see the industry, Herrala smiles and states they are exactly where they want to be. “At the moment we’re not interested in expanding our market geographically. We’re aiming to increase the number of clients in the countries we’re currently operating in. We want to do it right first time instead of spending time and money bouncing around. Half of our personnel are in sales, with offices in Oulu and Helsinki, although we also have a sales office in Stockholm. With our subsidiary company in Germany and another to be founded in the UK, I think we’re doing quite well.”

As for Herrala’s farming father, he passed his business to his other son, which means 9Solutions is one customer down – not that Herrala minds that, with the way things are going.