Turning clinical medicine into a healthy business

In 1995, PhD student Margarite Vale found that safe and effective therapies for chronic diseases were being underused. With a vision to bridge this treatment gap, she began developing The COACH Program. The initative has since become the most widely-used chronic disease management program in Australia, and was named Telstra Business of the Year in 2009. Here’s how Vale turned clinical practice into a viable business model.

“The COACH Program is underpinned by my strong belief that people with chronic diseases should know as much as their doctors do about their medical condition. If they are empowered with scientifically proven information about their health, they are more likely to get the best possible results,” she said.

The world-leading program provides training, software and support to health professionals to coach patients in preventing the progression of their chronic disease. This helps cut future medical costs and the likelihood of hospital readmissions for patients.

For Vale, the challenge in creating The COACH Program was turning evidence-based clinical practice into a viable business model. This was the only way the program could help the many people that needed it. But The COACH Program’s solid evidenced-base extensive research has ensured that it is both a world-leading program and a highly-sought after business.

Here are Dr Vale’s insights on how to create a healthy business:

What’s the most important lesson you’ve learnt?

Know your industry. Become a recognised authority to establish your credibility. I believe we have achieved this through offering a scientifically proven program that works, is cost-effective and appeals to virtually all people with chronic disease.

How has the COACH Program retained its customers?

We work closely with our customers to ensure we not only meet, but exceed their expectations. We have documented feedback systems to allow for rapid response to customers. In the medical field, ongoing research and development is critical, and quality assurance must be backed by regular comprehensive evaluation. This is demonstrated by continuous public presentation of the results of The COACH Program at national and international scientific meetings, and through publications in international peer-reviewed medical journals. I also have extensive involvement on various national committees that are responsible for the development of the guidelines for the management of a range of chronic conditions.

How have you avoided the traps that come with a growing business?

We are hands-on in our business and pride ourselves in making things happen quickly. This is particularly important in healthcare because new research findings happen every day and the information we disseminate must be up to date.

How integral has technology been in enhancing your business?

We rely on cutting-edge technologies in our business. We have developed a web-based software application which is used by all health professionals in delivering The COACH Program. We use the Telstra suite of business applications for email, remote live meetings and intranet. In some centres, health professionals use video conferencing to complement the telephone to deliver The COACH Program.

What have been the biggest external frustrations for The COACH Program?

We think that all health care organisations should insist that rigorous testing and research is conducted before the roll-out of a disease management program, instead of relying on the promise that it will be conducted later. There are organisations that waste their money and the opportunity to improve the lives of chronically ill patients by choosing to use programs with no scientific proof of their efficacy. We spent 10 years researching The COACH Program before it was rolled out into the health system. We don’t just believe that it works, we know that it works.

The full story of The COACH Program can be found in a new eBook that celebrates the achievements of 20 Telstra Australian Business of the Year Award winners from 1992 to 2011. Click here to download the eBook for free.

The 2012 Telstra Australian Business Awards will be held in Sydney, on 29 August.

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