Adapting Your North American Business Model for European Markets

By Robyn Finlay

A London, Ont.‑based company’s technology that is enabling patients in North America and the United Kingdom to get some medical services right at home will soon change health‑care delivery for thousands more patients in Europe.

Sensory Technologies is garnering international attention for its virtual health‑care platform. The software company’s solution, known as eShift®, provides a new clinical service model that allows patients to receive medical services in their place of choice. In many cases, it can eliminate the need to go to a hospital, clinic or doctors’ office.

“We were solving a very local, patient‑specific problem and the solution has now developed to a point where it has a profound impact on population health management,” says Patrick Blanshard, CEO and co‑founder of Sensory Technologies. The company created the eShift® care model to help address the demands on the provincial health‑care system—such as not enough beds to accommodate the number of patients. The eShift® software renders medical services more readily accessible in other locations, such as in the comfort of a patient’s home, for example, Blanshard says.

“Often we are dealing with very similar struggles and challenges and therefore opportunities in the Canadian context translate well into other economic zones,” he says. “The challenges faced by our health system are very similar to the challenges being faced by health systems in other countries.”

Aging populations, the complexities of illnesses, and expectations of health programs—both public and private—are “essentially identical” in Western countries, Blanshard says. This synergy between nations is helping smooth the exporting process and is bringing Sensory Technologies’ software across borders and into new markets.

The app technology—which can be accessed on smartphones, tablets, and other electronic devices—provides a new form of communication between medical service providers and patients. It enables a remote registered nurse to supervise and instruct trained on‑site care technicians who update patients’ medical charts in real‑time. Remote registered nurses can communicate with both on‑site care technicians and with patients who may have questions or concerns about their medical care. For example, the software is enhancing remote communication and support while maintaining the quality of medical services found in hospitals.

“We are patient‑active—in other words, we have paying, ongoing patient activity—in Canada, in the United States and in England,” he says. “We expect to be patient‑live this year in France, and in the Netherlands. As well, we are pushing to expand in Spain, Germany, Italy and potentially Belgium.” Sensory Technologies is currently working with private and public health‑care providers and insurance companies in these countries to implement the eShift® model.

While the company had early success in Canada and made a smooth transition into the U.S. market, a North American business model does not translate easily for an overseas market, says Sandrine Caduc, a trade commissioner in Paris specializing in innovation. The Canadian Trade Commissioner Service (TCS) has been instrumental in helping the company gain entry into the French market.

“All of these countries are facing health‑care system costs increase because of aging populations, because of demographics, and because of the cost of technology,” Caduc says, adding that we urgently need a system that allows for patients to be cared for at home, when possible, rather than having everyone cared for in hospitals. It is this un‑met need that is enabling the innovative eShift®’s software to enter new markets.

She adds that it is important to provide a product that is “addressing an un‑met need.” Companies need to prove that their “solution is providing value within the medical system.” While she admits that the process can be time‑consuming, the rewards for both the company and customers are huge.

“France is a large market, but it is tough to penetrate. It takes time, but we are confident that we have the right leads and are working at the right level with key players,” Caduc says.

“We help them to connect with the right contacts at the right level. We also help them tell their story. It is really important to calibrate the messages and to concentrate simple messages to the different stakeholders,” says Caduc.

Blanshard notes that having local champions who are “willing to get behind your ideas” is essential. He adds that trade commissioners like Caduc were instrumental in providing “high‑valued connections” that contributed to the company’s international success.

When the eShift® model was first launched in 2009, Blanshard “had no visions of international expansion.” Soon after the company entered the local marketplace, the potential of the product to contribute to health‑care systems across Canada and globally became apparent.

“We are changing a model of care for patients that hasn’t necessarily changed in a hundred years,” says Blanshard, who looks forward to seeing the eShift® service model “patient‑live” in France and hopefully one day across the globe.

“We are not just selling a product, we are offering a new model of care”, adds Francois Tattu, business development officer for Sensory Technologies in France.

“We are in a very specific market, so it is even more important to get the background and to understand how people are used to working and what their expectations are for the solution we are bringing,” says Tattu, who has extensive knowledge of specific regions of France and about the health‑care and medical technology industries.

Blanshard says one of the challenges of exporting to various markets is accommodating the differences between countries. “There are cultural differences, and there are also legislative and regulatory differences, and then there are labour differences too.”

The eShift® model focuses on individual patient care in each country and as such, obtaining and working with local contacts and employees is crucial, he notes.

“We have not yet worked in a country or started to explore a country where the challenges we were helping to address weren’t clear and present and the value proposition wasn’t obvious,” Blanshard says. “Every region—so every country—we are working in has very unique local challenges that we have to address.”

“With what we are doing, we need to be a local company when we are dealing with both the health data as well as with the government partners. The TCS has been very, very pivotal in all of that.”

The TCS has been working with Sensory Technologies on an event this fall to showcase their new platform to health insurance companies throughout the region and to health‑care and technology industry leaders who can help further validate the eShift® business model.

Caduc says she and other trade commissioners can help entrepreneurs and innovators “understand the market, and get access to the market with the best value propositions and with the right validation of their innovation.” The goal, she adds, is to “foster strategic partnerships to validate innovation and commercialization technology and innovation in new markets.”

Now, with Brexit on the horizon, Sensory Technologies will likely work with the TCS to “navigate the political and structural change as the United Kingdom departs from the European Union,” Blanshard says. “We have a great relationship with the TCS over the past few years and are grateful for all of the assistance we have had across both North American and European markets and look forward to working with the team as we grow.”

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