Contact tracing software tracks COVID-19 spread

HealthSpace Data Systems promises to deliver its platform for contact tracing within 48 hours to any North American jurisdiction fighting COVID-19 outbreaks.

The COVID-driven need for contact tracing has put a small BC health technology company on the public radar.

The rush to collect and measure medically relevant data in light of COVID-19 has proved a cross-marketing boon to Vancouver-headquartered HealthSpace Data Systems Ltd. (CNSX—HS), a government software-as-a-service (SaaS) provider with more than 500 clients, and its HSCloud Suite.

HSCloud Suite, which launched at the beginning of 2019, was initially designed to aid state and local government agencies with all aspects of environmental health (such as health inspections at restaurants and tattoo parlours), explains Silas Garrison, CEO and director of HealthSpace.

Environmental health is generally considered a subset of public health, but tends to be administered separately. However, when the coronavirus pandemic started, HealthSpace reached out to its clients to see how their needs were evolving and how to support them. The company then realized that environmental health was being drawn into community health initiatives, and the most pressing need was for better contact tracing (that is, tracking patients’ recent whereabouts and interactions to consequently track the spread of diseases such as COVID).

Software re-engineered for contact tracing

Since the HSCloud Suite had already been used in the past to track the origin point of food-borne illness outbreaks and the software suite is already customized for every client, reverse-engineering it for patient contact tracing was a relative breeze. HealthSpace’s website currently promises to deliver the platform for contact tracing within 48 hours to any North American jurisdiction.

Mr. Garrison says of health officials’ contact tracing programs: “We all have a part to play in easing the strain this is putting on—the world, really. Being able to deploy and amplify their efforts is really critical right now.” Reflecting that spirit, the company is offering HSCloud Suite free of charge to government agencies for the purposes of contact tracing until the COVID-19 crisis has passed.

More pragmatically, the contact tracing demo gets HealthSpace’s foot in the door at government agencies, translating to exposure, contracts, and even potential referrals. In April, for example, the state of Hawaii signed on to use HSCloud Suite for contact tracing purposes, HealthSpace’s biggest client so far. Most of the company’s clients are in the United States, including 10 statewide deployments, although the company has 20 municipal clients in BC and Ontario.

Early adopters’ testimonials key to growth

There’s broad need and desire (due to COVID) to adopt the company’s cloud-based technology because of the speed and accessibility it offers over other options; the pandemic’s urgency has also boosted agencies’ willingness to be early adopters, and others hearing about their successful experiences are much more willing to sign on based on the adopters’ testimonials, according to Mr. Garrison, who underlines the importance of customer service. “Your reputation is your currency,” he says.

“Freemium works, pure and simple,” Mr. Garrison adds. Commenting in late April, he proudly observed that 80 per cent of his company’s sales in the previous 12 months were “sole-sourced” rather than won through a typical request for proposals (RFP), meaning that demos were so strong that HealthSpace was awarded a contract immediately, without considering competitors.

Remote user data entry cuts costs and health risks

As noted earlier, HSCloud Suite was designed to combine all operational and administrative functions of environmental health, from applications through licensing, billing and inspections, onto one platform. The company has started rolling out its latest offering, HSPay, developed with PayPal Holdings Inc., which enables agencies to receive payments online. Highlighting the inefficiency of existing government payment systems, Mr. Garrison points out that the City of San Francisco collects US$300 million annually in health-related licensing fees strictly through paper currency.

HealthSpace designs individual clients’ HSCloud Suites based on whatever specific data points they wish to track. The tool’s remote nature means patients can input their own information on an ongoing basis, reducing labour drastically as well as testers’ risk of COVID exposure. At the same time, those providers can directly access existing patient information or add to a file. Lab workers can also modify and access data, and the suite offers native utilities to share data, for example with the US CDC.

In an interview with Fairchild TV Toronto on May 20, Mr. Garrison addressed privacy concerns, saying the tool collects relevant data but stops short of collecting specific location information to avoid scaring off would-be users.

Capital needs fulfilled for foreseeable future

Although the company’s main office is in Charlotte, North Carolina, the company is headquartered in Greater Vancouver. The chair of HealthSpace’s board, Ali Hakimzadeh, says the company made its 2015 IPO on the Canadian Securities Exchange because of its effectiveness in raising “public VC (venture capital) money”.

On May 1, the company announced the closing of an oversubscribed private equity-and-debt offering through sole agent Echelon Wealth Partners, which Mr. Hakimzadeh said was very well-received by Bay Street. HealthSpace issued a total of 44 million units, priced at $0.065 each, made up of one common share as well as a warrant entitling the holder to buy another common share at $0.10 for up to 36 months from the closing date, raising gross proceeds of $2.86 million. Mr. Garrison says the proceeds will be spent on in-house engineering, including for HSPay. Mr. Hakimzadeh says the share issue and existing capital fulfil the company’s needs “to the end of the year for sure and for the foreseeable future”.

This is an edited version of an article that was originally published for subscribers in the June 5, 2020, issue of Investor’s Digest of Canada. You can profit from the award-winning advice subscribers receive regularly in Investor’s Digest of Canada.

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