In a post-pandemic society where there’s an increased focus on physical and mental health, healthcare organisations around the world have found themselves under the spotlight. Whether this relates to the integration of tech and automation, clinical effectiveness, or patient care depends on the organisations themselves.
Althea Australia is a part of the Althea Group, a global organisation working across 16 countries. The Group operates as an outsource technological partner that provides managed services and multi-vendor maintenance across an entire spectrum of medical equipment – both in public and private portfolios.
But over at Althea Australia, based in Melbourne, things are slightly different.
“We provide consultancy and procurement services across a full range of diagnostic imaging equipment, including CT, X-ray, and MRI, up to 13 modalities,” says Monique Gaspar.
“The procurement function really is the integral component of our business operations, and we’re really committed to delivering best outcomes and best benefits for our customers.”
Head of Business Operations and Procurement at Althea Australia, Gaspar runs its day-to-day operations and manages customer supply relationships. She is, however, a radiographer by trade.
“I have 20 years of clinical experience in radiology in all different modalities,” says Gaspar. “I'm a subject-matter expert, responsible for the maintenance of our ISO 9001 accredited governance and framework. I'm also a procurement specialist.”
At Althea Australia, the team is small with multiple portfolios. Within this team, Phil Barber functions as the Senior Product Procurement Specialist and Business Development Manager.
“We aid in helping our partners to adhere to our rigid framework, our model, and our processes in procuring equipment,” says Barber. “I'm also responsible for the growth of the business, seeking out external opportunities with other groups, such as major corporations or private hospitals, and growing our business.”
Over his 30+ year career in the industry, Barber has become an experienced subject matter expert across all facets of diagnostic radiology, led into the healthcare industry because of a desire to utilise all learned skills from the full span of his career.
“This for me, was a challenging new role. It gave me a new burst of life, and it was the first time I was on the customer or purchasing side, not with equipment sales and marketing,” says Barber.
In contrast, Gaspar has spent 20 years in a variety of hospital and private healthcare settings, having also done some teaching within this remit.
“With Althea, I was looking for a new challenge. I'd previously worked in a different role in admin and HR, with a bit of procurement involved. So when this job came up, I saw that it was a role where I could combine my healthcare and radiology background with my business experience,” she says.
Procuring high-value medical equipment
Althea Australia aspires to be the preferred group procurement organisation for radiology and healthcare providers across ANZ – Australia and New Zealand.
“We really want to be a centre of excellence for procurement,” says Gaspar. “We provide professional and strategic targeted procurement to Radiology – using our best practices – to the market. This results in significant savings and operational benefits to our healthcare providers. We provide fresh new ideas to the marketplace that drive competitive tension, which is best for everyone.”
Althea Australia is the only company doing this in the ANZ market, specifically in Radiology, which Barber sees as a huge competitive advantage.
“Our model has helped us drive capital expenditure down, so it benefits our clients,” Barber says.
Traditionally in the ANZ market, medical equipment has been purchased based on long-standing, preferred supplier relationships.
“New suppliers find it difficult to penetrate, even if they have superior specifications or more cost-effective equipment,” says Barber. “Equipment procurement times were lengthy and often drawn out, with repeated back-and-forth negotiations, which wastes time and money. Corporatisation of the private market is still ongoing and growing, and more and more smaller groups are consolidating.”
Corporate organisations desire structured and streamlined procurement processes rather than just operating as individuals.
Private companies and public sector organisations that purchase medical equipment individually, are often limited by the scale of their organisation.
Althea Australia utilises strategic procurement processes, aligned with the organisation business objectives. The company is actively marketing to healthcare providers that will drive the benefits of scale.
“Essentially,” says Gaspar, ”in our core team of 4 personnel - of which 3 are subject-matter experts - we have the experience and technical skills across all modalities within diagnostic imaging, remaining neutral and unbiased with respect to all the different vendors.
“With regards to our expertise in specification and functionality, part of our process is designed to save the customer time and money because we procure fit-for-purpose equipment and match their clinical requirements of the sites, to their budgets. We use our expertise and experience to bring down their capital expenditure on equipment procurement and reduce the total cost of ownership over the life of the system, including servicing.”
“Our model is ideal for corporates as well as individual purchasers,” says Barber, “where the same business objectives are to minimise unnecessary overspending to improve their balance sheets, whereas previously, individuals were purchasing based on brand names and/or repeat replacements. Whilst we understand brand loyalty and other factors exist in choosing equipment, we offer alternative options to the customers with equipment that fits their clinical needs, but not necessarily just re-ordering the brand they've bought for years.
“We're very transparent in the process. We've opened the game up to all suppliers that have equipment that match the specifications and clinical needs of that site. I think that's a good thing for the industry.”
Supporting suppliers and upholding partnerships
How healthcare businesses have managed their supply chains and partnerships has evolved over the past two years. At Althea Australia, Barber believes that the key to their success has been their relationship with suppliers.
“We need to be able to best-fit their products to our clinical needs and our end users,” he says. “We rely on those supplier relationships to educate us and update our knowledge-data continuously.”
This is not just a once-a-year type of activity; Althea Australia’s suppliers are constantly updating with new products, innovations and technologies. Radiology equipment improvements and innovations are constantly changing healthcare.
“Because of our transparency, it opens the gate, which gives us very open communication between our suppliers – it’s a core strength,” says Barber.
The company has worked with medical equipment supplier Quantum Healthcare who distributes and services equipment from Carestream Health Inc, and other OEM’s.
“We've renewed – and actually strengthened – the relationship between Quantum Healthcare and our clients with recent successes in their x-ray products, and the potential with expanding their portfolio with ultrasound systems,” continues Barber. “We did this by providing constructive feedback to Quantum on what they did well and what could be improved with their tender offerings via our debrief sessions. They acted on our feedback, which enabled Quantum to attain success within our procurement tender process. They listened to what we've had to tell them as a customer, we've informed them how we believe they can become successful, and they've acted on that. A win-win for both parties.”
Another customer supplier who has also enjoyed recent successes with their tender offerings to Althea Australia has been Fujifilm Asia Pacific, with recent wins for their x-ray, OPG and mobile x-ray products.
“We’ve had successful installations and positive feedback from our end-users regarding the Fujifilm products, which are well supported by their service teams,” says Barber. “Globally they recently released new ultrasound products which are now being introduced locally, so we're trying to open doors to our customer-base for them to demonstrate their products. We are also excited with their soon-to-be-released CT Scanner systems, which can further expand their coverage and footprint for Fujifilm. We offer consultancy and advice to them on their product ranges, suitability and positioning across the ANZ market whilst serving our customers’ needs.”
But what is it that makes such partnerships work? What does a partnership have to have to be successful?
“I think it's like a good relationship,” says Barber. “Understanding and trusting our framework and processes. They've got to understand how we work and how they work with us – and to do that, good communication is required between all parties.
“100% what Phil said,” concurs Gaspar. “You definitely have to be open and transparent; it really is key because then there's no misunderstanding of what's happening.”
In the past, it has taken some suppliers a long time to understand Althea Australia’s processes, with some even slipping back into previous ways of procurement.
“But once we installed our framework and explained how we work, they quickly adapted to become competitive,” says Barber.
That then allowed Althea Australia to fulfil product features while driving cost advantages for clients at the same.