Paper files, indecipherable handwritten notes, interminable searches for missing but potentially vital information. They were enough to give doctors and insurers a headache.
Enter Auckland company Konnect Net with the cure for inefficient processing of medical insurance applications.
Its SureMed software service aims to revolutionise the exchange and management of information between all parties involved.
Used by 17 insurers and the majority of New Zealand GPs, SureMed has replaced confusing multiplicity with standardised forms handled electronically.
It's turned a slow, expensive and time consuming business into a far easier proposition. From an average turnaround of 20 days, requests for medical information are now being dealt with in a third of that time.
When Konnect Net won the services award at last year’s New Zealand Hi-Tech awards, the judges said the company had solved a problem previously seen as too complex to be fixed by automation.
How did they do it? By building from the ground up, according to Konnect Net director and co-founder Hamish McLachlan. He reckons the software is only the most obvious component. “What we’ve done is a major change management exercise.
We spent a lot of time with doctors and insurance underwriters to get both parties to understand what the problem was and what each party needed to make it easier. We’ve effectively re-engineered the process. Technology can help enable that, but it’s the underlying process that really adds the value.”
It’s the kind of answer you’d expect given Konnect Net wasn’t founded by techies, but by three experienced business problem solvers. McLachlan came from the financial services sector, fellow director Murray Lilley from management consulting and CEO Peter Gardner was involved in infrastructure consulting, including building large scale IT infrastructure.
“[Gardner] is probably the strongest of us three in that IT space,” says McLachlan, “but what we all do is understand a business problem really well and we have a gifted group of developers who can help turn that into tools.”
The business problem for medical insurance really required a root and branch rethink. When the trio established Konnect they initially focused on improving the process to help insurers sell their product more efficiently — tackling the front end, as McLachlan puts it.
“But as we engaged with insurers we learned that their biggest ‘pain point’ was getting medical information. That issue was responsible for a lot of policies not being converted to being fully signed up policies. The insurers said, ‘if you can address that problem first, we’re on board for the rest’.”
Starting from scratch, they eventually developed a suite of three core products: SureMed, to aid the retrieval of medical information by underwriters; SureApp, aimed at streamlining the sales process for insurance brokers; and SureClaim, designed to simplify the claim experience for everyone. All three link into one portal for the insurer that pays the bill.
“It’s an interesting model because we have three customers: the health sector, because for this to work we have to make things easier for them so they use it; the broker, because we want them to submit applications and do the work electronically; and the insurer, who at the end of the day pays for the transaction. But increasingly that could be a corporate or a government agency, rather than an insurer, because we’re now starting to engage with a much broader range of users. Our product is becoming the standard interface for other ‘get medical information’ transactions.”
It’s been a heady ride. Konnect Net was named the number one 'Hot Emerging Company' in last year’s Technology Investment Network 100 list as sales grew 1200% to $7.8 million.
Among the company’s partners is the CityMed medical centre in Auckland, which piloted SureMed during its early development. Administration manager Gail Kingston says Konnect has solved a long standing problem for her organisation.
“There are so many insurance companies and they all require most of the same information, but some would have huge questionnaires,” she says. “Konnect were good at saying, ‘what are the main questions everyone asks?’, then whittling forms down and standardising the requests. Our doctors say it’s been a huge time saver. And as soon as they open a form now everything in a patient’s file gets sucked into it so they don’t have to trawl through.”
Kingston also praises the company’s responsiveness to doctors' suggestions for improvements. “Konnect are really good at trying to make changes to suit. They’re often little things, but from a doctor’s perspective if it takes more than two clicks it’s a problem. They need it fast and efficient.”
This is the essence of what Konnect does — improve business processes. That might not sound sexy, says McLachlan, but it can deliver extremely valuable benefits to organisations even though that never comes easy. “Like a lot of business, it’s what you don’t see that can make all the difference. What we try to do is make something look really simple, but behind the scenes it’s extremely complicated. In the end, it’s about delivering optimal customer service.”
What’s next for Konnect Net? Enjoying such strong growth has created challenges, says McLachlan. “How do you keep up with demand? Do you have enough funding to keep up with your growth? Those are fairly significant challenges for a smaller business like ours.”
But on the strength of its local success and support from the Ministry of Science and Innovation and New Zealand Trade and Enterprise, Konnect is making a big play for the Australian market, where so many New Zealand-based insurers have a parent company. “We’re working off the back of our relationships with insurers in New Zealand and looking to Asia off the back of the new relationships we’re building in Australia.”
For a company whose mission is to make the complex simple and the time consuming quick and painless, the future looks bright. “We are in an era now where cost efficiency is so important and everyone is trying to deliver a better service to compete,” says McLachlan. “People are more willing to engage in process and customer service improvements than ever.”
What is the biggest challenge your small business is facing in 2014?Related story: (See story)