Go back to go forward
Back in July I attended a workshop in Tianjin hosted by the Yorks and Humber AHSN. I wrote about it. So what’s happened since then?
One thing’s for sure, if you don’t go back, you don’t go forward. I’ve been back a couple of times since July, partly to keep the momentum going, partly to pursue real opportunities. A few years ago I had a light bulb moment while in the shower (probably not recommended). If TAMONITOR has worked in England for (by then) 14 years why wouldn’t it work elsewhere? And where else in the world has a state-funded healthcare system like ours, but is a market 22 times bigger than here in UK? Well, obvious isn’t it? China.
But ever since that light bulb moment I’ve struggled to find a way that a tiny UK company could afford to enter a huge, unknown market like China. We didn’t know anything about China, we didn’t know anyone in China, we didn’t know anything about how healthcare is delivered in China. And most important of all, we didn’t speak Chinese. It would take a braver man than me to pitch up in Beijing and start knocking on hospital doors.
So when the opportunity to go on a chaperoned introduction visit in July came along I seized the opportunity. It was a great week, but it only provided a finger tip grasp on what the opportunity might be. Important, but only finger tip. I still didn’t know much about how Chinese healthcare was organised, how it was funded, what the drivers are. But the great introductions I got and the subsequent conversations I had on that ubiquitous Chinese communication channel, WeChat, encouraged me to go back, to learn more, and to see if an opportunity existed, or not.
An introduction to a dynamic software company in Hangzhou proved a turning point. That company is building a GP community-based software system from scratch, and recognised that TAMONITOR could just be a good ‘value-add’ to their system. A demonstration was arranged at the Sir Run Run Shaw hospital in Hangzhou, one of the leading hospitals in China. The demonstration was to be attended by senior IT people from Sir Run Run Shaw hospital and, for want of a better description, a district hospital in Jianggan District in Hangzhou. The speed at which the demonstration was arranged was breathtaking by comparison with the NHS. And that, for me, was a good sign. One of the things I was hoping about the Chinese market was that decision making would be much faster. And that proved the case.
The demonstration was held, twice, as the Jianggan representative arrived late. But as he was second in command of the hospital IT demand it was worth a rerun. The TAMONITOR demonstration running on our Rackspace server was as responsive as you could wish for. Special thanks to the translator from Lantone, Evia, for running through the presentation twice. And then? Silence at first, which I took to be an ominous sign. Oh well, I thought, I gave it my best shot. At least I’ve found out. I had never imagined those few years before that I’d get the opportunity to present TAMONITOR at a prestige hospital in China.
But Evia knew what was going on. As I reached for my bag to pack up, she motioned me to sit down. ’They’re thinking’, she said, quietly. And after a couple of quiet exchanges the temperature hotted up and the voices got louder and louder. It’s a cultural difference of course, but to us even-keeled Brits shouting is a sign of tempers being lost and even approaching violence. Not so in China. It’s a sign of excitement, enthusiasm, debate. A good sign.
And the upshot? At the end of the session a round of handshaking and a commitment from Jianggan to pilot TAMONITOR in 2016, in partnership with Lantone. Mission accomplished? No. Another step towards TAMONITOR world domination? Who knows? But one thing I’ve learnt. You have to go back, to go forward.