Business guide to Coronavirus

Palo IT: Using software to deliver COVID-19 care

When demand for digital development services dried up in the COVID-19 crisis, Sydney software house PALO IT got busy.

The result has been Virtual Bed, an app designed to keep patients with mild COVID-19 symptoms out of hospital by making it easier for healthcare professionals to monitor them remotely. Now, PALO IT is offering it to governments and healthcare providers for free. Co-founder Tanguy Fournier Le Ray explains why.

What inspired PALO IT to create Virtual Bed?

We’ve been significantly affected by COVID-19, with a number of projects stopped or put on hold here in Australia. Although our revenue and profits are taking a hit, we believe that as a technology company we have a role to play in a difficult period like this.

While protecting the jobs within our teams is our number one priority, we also saw an opportunity to build something that might be helpful to people, or the healthcare sector. We did some research and interviewed some of our contacts in the National Health Service in the UK to better understand the gap in the market between existing solutions and the market need during COVID-19.

Based on this, our chief technology officer came up with Virtual Bed. We thought it made sense, especially for countries where the health system maybe isn’t as strong as it is here in Australia, or where the number of patients has exceeded capacity. There’s nothing terribly complex about the product, but we felt it could help to solve a real problem.

How does the app work?

The idea is for patients to log on and record their symptoms at regular intervals. The app stores details of any risk factors or pre-existing health conditions they may have, like diabetes or hypertension. You can also lodge other health metrics, including their temperature, respiratory and heart rate and blood pressure. This data is then used to create a National Early Warning Score. Healthcare professionals are able to monitor these scores on a dashboard and intervene if they feel a patient would benefit from seeing their GP or from coming into hospital.

The aim is to assist large numbers of people to recover at home if they’re able to, while providing them with support and peace of mind. It’s good for patients, but there are also broader benefits – keeping people who are only mildly ill out of hospital prevents them from spreading the virus and frees up beds for those whose symptoms are more severe.

An added bonus is that the app will generate a huge amount of data, which researchers will be able to use to study the disease as analytics are built in the product.

How long did it take from settling on the idea to creating a working version of Virtual Bed?

About three weeks. We had a team of seven developers and designers working on it. During that time, they also consulted healthcare professionals as they went. People might think that sounds fast, but that’s the way we work – in a lean and agile way. As a company, we build digital products and platforms extremely rapidly. Moving at this speed means we’re now in the position to present something to governments and healthcare authorities to see if it can be of use.

Who have you shared it with so far?

At the moment, it’s being assessed by eHealth (the Australian Digital Health Agency), the Ministry of Health in Singapore and the technology arm of the United Nations. With initiatives like this, finding the right people to talk to can be very challenging, even when something is not for profit and you’re not expecting or wanting remuneration. Fortunately, we already had relationships with those entities because we’d worked with them in the past and we were able to reach out and start a discussion.

Usually healthcare projects move slowly because there are a lot of liability and regulation issues associated with them, but we’re in an unprecedented situation with COVID-19. We’re expecting to hear fairly soon whether they want to go ahead with implementing it.

PALO IT is donating its intellectual property to help in the COVID-19 battle – is there a reward in that, albeit non-financial?

Yes. The vision of our company is ‘technology for the greater good’. We constantly look for ways to build products that positively impact people and society and it’s very motivating for our team to be working on something meaningful in the current climate.

 

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