A short history of a leading Australian health IT company
This article traces the inspiring story of Claydata from its inception to its current position at the vanguard of eHealth in Australia. Along the way, you'll learn about Claydata and how our products respond to real-world, on-the-ground challenges in the health industry.
Claydata is a leading health IT company based in Sydney, Australia. The dynamic team of clinical product designers and programmers have developed some of the most innovative practice management systems in the world. From humble beginnings to its current status as a leader in Australian eHealth, numbering major healthcare organisations amongst its clients, the Claydata story is, as founder and chief product designer Joseph Grace calls it, “an overnight success that only took twenty years.”
A timeline to success
The inspiration for Claydata and its suite of medical software emerged from a background of inability, a frustration with existing practice management processes. Dr Grace, fresh from medical school, found himself acutely aware of the administrative burden placed upon himself and his peers when it came to medical practice. Regularly spending hours filling out paperwork late into the night, he speculated that there must be a better way. The promise of the paperless office remained a distant vision, but it seemed that information technology was finally catching up, at least in principle, to such a dream.
In an attempt to lighten the workload, to reduce the piles of paperwork that detracted not only from his personal time but the time that would be better spent providing the best healthcare to patients, Dr Grace cast about for existing applications. Coming up with nothing suitable, not to mention affordable for an practitioner looking for help independent of a major hospital’s IT infrastructure, Dr Grace took it upon himself to develop his own simple solution.
This first foray into software development was a simple automated report generator for workers’ compensation and personal injury reports. This basic but eminently useful system was written in early Mac and PC computer languages on floppy disks. In an intimation of the more intensive development environment that Dr Grace would later occupy, he sought the help of an undergraduate computer science student for this initial project. However, this DIY solution was largely for personal use.
Following this, Dr Grace’s nascent interest in medical software development went on a decade-long hiatus. As he relates, “life gets in the way and further medical training gets in the way and I didn't revisit anything to do with PC-based electronic health records until about 2002, 2003.” In the interim, however, Dr Grace moved into specialist vascular medicine and, in the late 90s, worked as a research assistant to a medical professor. This entailed working with Microsoft Access databases, and the next phase of what would become Claydata began to take form.
Tinkering with Microsoft Access and Excel databases led to the development of a response to the document management problems besetting an industry that was by now generating large amounts of digital data alongside a largely, and stubbornly, paper-based administrative infrastructure. “What was the big deal in the early 2000s was you had thousands of image files belonging to your patients sitting on a computer and then you had a hard paper file and there was a disconnect there,” says Dr Grace. “What I did was produce an Access system that enabled you to file automatically your documents and I developed little robotic routines within the system. You just plug in your USB and it would automatically collect all the files, cut them, place them into the patient directory and delete everything off the USB. Today we still use that in MRI and CT and ultrasound technology and it's our éCabinet application.”
This image data (IMDAT) system eventually found its way into the practical use in the US, where the uptake of eHealth has been typically enthusiastic. Several clinics in Chicago, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and New York licensed Dr Grace’s system, and it seemed that the germ of a viable medical software development company had, almost of its own accord, taken hold.
By 2005 Dr Grace had begun to see the limitations of consumer-grade Microsoft platforms, despite striking out and training in Microsoft’s .NET framework, finding problems with their non-scalability in a rapidly growing digital domain, their unreliability, and the cost and time-demands associated with developing in such unwieldy environments. Taking the plunge, Dr Grace turned his attention to the open source Linux operating system and the LAMP software bundle (Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP) which together support web application services. As Dr Grace recounts, “This configuration drives the likes of Google so I was very lucky that I went to that, as there are so many options. I employed programmers to completely emulate the systems that I'd already built in Microsoft. We completely reduplicated it and built it right from scratch.”
At this stage, Dr Grace felt he had the aptitude to begin a concerted effort in the direction of a proprietary medical software suite. And so, using LAMP boxes, he began work coding the QandaX kernel, the flexible computer language at the heart of Claydata’s Putty suite of software modules. Development began to proceed rapidly when Senior Software Developer Khan Le, whose experience helped shape Dr Grace’s vision for the future of eHealth, joined Dr Grace.
After three years of intensive development by the duo who were the core of what was now known as Claydata, a number of the platforms that would become the Putty system had been created. At this decisive juncture, Claydata expanded to take on 10 software development subcontractors and include the marketing skills of Paula Saad. Along with Dr Grace, Saad headed to the US and launched Claydata LLC, a company that is currently being prepared for listing on the US OTC stock exchange.
Proceeding with caution
The response was immediate. With an early and limited form of the Claydata system already in US clinical deployment, and with that market’s hunger for eHealth innovation, Claydata quickly received a lucrative offer to buy just one portion of the Claydata range of software modules. PuttyBook, an innovative business-location, booking and billing system, accessible online, was sought by a firm with major portfolio of innovative medical industry assets. However, the catches were one too many and, not wanting to relinquish control of a system that was proving its worth but could be so much more, Claydata declined the offer.
Consolidation, certification, commercialisation, celebration
In 2009, the Claydata team turned their attention back to Australia with a view to using the small market here as a testing ground for the system. A full research and development and manufacturing office was set up at North Shore Medical Group (NSMG), where Dr Grace practices and holds the position of medical director. “I decided to fully fit-out an entire procedural centre, which is run as an independent medical centre but is also a fully fledged testing facility for all of the Claydata products,” Dr Grace says.
Subsequently, NSMG formed a kind of template for what a medical practice might achieve with Claydata’s flagship Putty software suite, using the system to take care of comprehensive electronica health or medical records (EHR/EMR), patient-doctor notifications, booking, billing, and more. On the back of this success, and with development in full swing, Claydata expanded its test sites to include aged care provider HealthCube and a number of other pilot sites.
Meanwhile, the team had been working on the formidable task of getting their fledgling EMR software certified to the level necessarily demanded by health industry regulatory bodies. Putty was already interoperable according to the HL7 protocol, that is, the system was capable of communication with other health information systems. In Australia, this is to date the only standard in place for eHealth software. The US, on the other hand, with its long-standing acceptance of the turn to eHealth, demanded a much higher level of compliance.
With international recognition in hand, Claydata felt it was ready for commercial release. Now, with a fully-fledged software and business development team on board, it was only a matter of time before Claydata landed some serious contracts. As of early 2013, Claydata are now working closely with a number of large Australian healthcare providers, actively implementing the Putty system and training users in what will prove to be a major push forward in eHealth innovation.