How much do you know about innovative Atlantic Canadian entrepreneurs? This article is part of a special feature showcasing exciting initiatives occurring in Atlantic Canada’s innovation ecosystem. Here, we will introduce you to the success of innovative men and women across the region that are making an impact on the economy. This special feature is sponsored by the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency.
In 1998, telehealth company Fonemed was in the lean start-up phase and shared an office with AT&T on Water Street in St. John’s. Today, the Newfoundland-based company serves 10 million people globally, with four sites in Newfoundland and Labrador and many more throughout the U.S., Caribbean and Latin America.
“[AT&T staff] would go home after work and we would take over the space, because we really didn’t have any revenue for the first year,” said Charlene Brophy, a registered nurse who is now the president and CEO of the company.
Fonemed provides nurse triage and clinical support services to physician practices, managed-care organizations, third party administrators, disease management providers, private employers, and university clinics.
The company has its headquarters in St. John’s and a U.S. head office in Ventura, California.
Even though the U.S. is its biggest market today, most of Fonemed’s almost 200 employees, including its executive team, are in Newfoundland and Labrador.
“We’ve got here in Newfoundland and Labrador, and Atlantic Canada, some of the brightest, talented and dedicated individuals, and some of the greatest work ethic one will ever find throughout the world,” Brophy said.
I travel extensively, and people ask me, ‘why stay here?’, I respond, ‘why wouldn’t I stay here?’ People here are like no other. They not only share the vision of the work we do, but they are also whole-heartedly committed to the company and to supporting our province.
Fonemed also manages the province’s 8-1-1 tele-health services. Additionally, its proprietary patient management software is licensed by the government of Saskatchewan. Clients in countries from Haiti to Venezuela are also using the software platform and the company is currently exploring opportunities in Peru.
“We’re very uniquely positioned in the market and the industry because not only do we offer the remote clinical services, we can also offer the proprietary platform for organizations to run their own service,” Brophy said.
“Some of our clients are interested in using our platform to run their clinical programs and then at four o’clock in the evening can turn their lines over to us and we use the exact same platform, so patients can call after hours and continue to receive telehealth services.”
Brophy said the proprietary platform was developed with the help of funding from Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA). She is quick to state that ACOA “has always been very supportive for the company.
The software offers a “unique value,” she said. “It was developed with nurses sitting side by side with software engineers, making sure they really understood the need, she said. “We managed to capture that niche in the healthcare market, which is what we desire. We don’t want to diversify ourselves to the point where we are no longer a healthcare provider. We very much want to stay within that realm.”
The software allows Fonemed to provide the full continuum of care, helping clients manage everyone from mothers with sick babies to seniors who are dealing with the simultaneous presence of two chronic diseases or conditions.
“We have the ability and the clinical protocols built into the software to be able to manage any disease state in any country from any individual,” she said, “and by doing so, not only provide symptomatic management, but engage and empower individuals to manage their own care before the condition deteriorates to the point requiring hospitalization or institutionalization.”
The platform also has portals for patients, their families and caregivers to keep track of various healthcare programs and diagnostics. It allows Fonemed to monitor patient’s biometric readings from the comfort of their homes and accelerate calls to physicians when needed. The company can form relationships with pharmacies allowing medications to be delivered to patients’ homes if such intervention is required.
The company’s footprint and revenue continue to grow and although she is projecting greater revenue growth in the next two years, she’s facing a challenge with finding skilled workers.
“My greatest challenge probably has been finding the talent I need with software engineers,” she said. A limited number of software engineers graduate from Memorial University each year and they’re grabbed up very quickly by some of the larger players here.”
So, Fonemed has been taking advantage of the Atlantic Immigration Pilot program to hire software engineers. The most recent being a Venezuelan employee and his family, and a Moroccan employee who had moved to Prince Edward Island with his family previously to relocate to NL.
“The [pilot program] has been supportive and great to work with and I plan to continue down that path as well.” She encourages other entrepreneurs to take part in attracting international talent to Newfoundland and Labrador.
“I think as entrepreneurs and as business owners, we must continue to support the province in giving back, by hiring locally and doing our part in finding a way forward, right here at home.