Inside Track Q&A: John Sweeney

The Irish Times, Wed, 6th Aug, 2014

Health Care Informed was set up in 2005 and now employs 25 people. It is based in Headford, Co Galway, with offices in Dublin and Melbourne.

What is special about your business? We provide
regulatory, accreditation, risk-management and quaJSlity improvement services to health and social care organisations. This means working with staff in hospitals, nursing homes and disability/social care settings to improve patient safety and the quality of care.

What sets your business apart in your sector? We are big believers in rolling up our sleeves and getting work done rather than just advising people how to do it. We offer direct hands-on support and there is no other company like us in Europe, Australia or the Middle East. We are also one of the few organisations that doesn’t believe the customer is always right.

Our primary focus is on ensuring the best possible care for every individual, whether they are a patient, a resident or a service user. If a client wants to implement something that conflicts with this objective we part ways.

What has been your biggest challenge? The first was getting the right team together. We need a mix of health, social and quality improvement skills and experience, but also, and most importantly for me, people with a passion to improve the care being provided to each individual.

The second is trying to get organisations to learn from things that go wrong and to incorporate what they’ve learnt into preventative measures. That might seem obvious but research shows we are still at a very early stage in joined-up learning in healthcare.

What has been your biggest success? Helping organisations to dramatically improve the quality and safety of care they provide; beating off stiff international competition to be appointed technical advisers to the Supreme Council of Health in Qatar where we are helping them establish a full health and social care regulatory system.

What key piece of advice would you give to someone starting a business?Don’t wait until you have everything figured out. Once you know what is driving you, get started as you will be able to hone your idea as it progresses. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, there is no better way of learning.

Whom do you admire most in business and why? Dr Don Berwick, founder of the USA-based Institute for Healthcare Improvement, as he has driven so much practical change in the world of patient safety. His organisation has helped people realise that there is much more to patient safety that just trying to do the right thing. It needs a scientific approach that uses data, process change and innovation working in tandem to achieve the best possible outcomes.

What two things could the Government do to help SMEs in the current environment? Improve the telecommunications infrastructure in rural areas of Ireland such as Headford, Co Galway, and review the (too-) high cost of commercial rates.

In your experience are the banks lending to SMEs? Yes, but increased bureaucracy can make it an unrealistic process for many.

What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made in business? Not focusing enough on research and development in the beginning. Healthcare is very complex; no one individual can keep up to date with the constant changes. We now have an R&D team that ensures we are implementing international best practice.

What is the most frustrating part of running a small business? Not being able to do all the things you would like to do as quickly as you would like.

What is your business worth and would you sell it? The answer to the first question is not enough and to the second is no. We still have a long way to go towards fulfilling our goals. In conversation with Olive Keogh