AN Ennis mother-of-two has drawn from her experience as a cancer patient to develop a new family health records system that promises to revolutionise how families manage their health records.
Diagnosed with cancer in October 2006, Mary Fitzgerald has since recovered from her illness but found that keeping track of appointments and health information, along with managing family life and work, was a “nightmare”.
This prompted the co-founder of Clare Haven House with Colette Reddington in 2003 to develop BodyTab, which she says is the first of its kind in the country, to bring all the relevant medical information technology into one user-friendly package.
“As I went from doctor to doctor and specialist to specialist, I was invariably asked the same questions about family history, immunisations, allergies and medications. I found this important information difficult to remember during my illness.
“However, it was essential in building up a picture for my caregivers.
“It is very important that you have a family tree of your true medical history. I figured that there must be a better way and so I set about developing a system that anyone could use,” she said.
Ms Fitzgerald has secured a deal with the Unicare Pharmacy group to distribute her product through their 72 shops nationwide. It will also be on sale in a number of local Unicare Pharmacy outlets, pharmacies and local bookshops .
She has spent the past four years researching and developing this product with the help of her business partner Alan Galvin and software designer Brian Ahearne, who has a background in medical information technology.
She also benefited from the experience of developing an internet business called Clare To Here, helping enterprises go online with their products and profile, which she sold on and has also been counselling for the last five or six years, including work as a life coach.
Although the existing software package is compatible with doctor surgeries, the next stage will involve the development of a memory key that could become widely used in GP practices next year and in acute hospitals, subject to agreement with the Health Service Executive (HSE).
Ms Fitzgerald believes her product is ideally suited to families and is also looking for potential investors to develop her innovative medical recording device even further.
“I have a very positive attitude to life and I believe that every cloud has a silver lining. Developing BodyTab has been hard work but very rewarding.
“This endorsement from Unicare shows that all the effort was worthwhile. Hopefully, other patients will benefit from my experience,” she said.
Married to Martin Feerick, who is an agricultural advisor based in Scariff, the couple have two daughters, Caoimhe (14) and Enya (10).
She recalled the need for this device was reinforced when her daughter, Caoimhe, got her hand caught in a fishhook during a family holiday to the United States in 2007 and they couldn’t remember when she had last received a tetanus injection.
The BodyTab system has two easy-to-use elements including a comprehensive medical file for storing the health history and medical information for every member of the family to use in an emergency, meeting a new doctor or consultant, care of elderly parents or travelling abroad.
It also includes an integrated information tool to learn about, test and monitor family members at home for asthma, abnormal cholesterol, diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity. In addition to storing the health records of up to 12 people on each copy of BodyTab, people can track and record their exercise regime and nutritional intake.
For ease of use, the BodyTab text has gained the Crystal Mark for clarity from the Plain English Campaign. It is also available as a download from www.BodyTab.ie.
Advice from medical authorities was sought during the research stage and it has also been strongly endorsed by The Irish Heart Foundation as a very useful tool in maintaining good health.
Dr Brian Maurer, medical director of the Irish Heart Foundation, proposed that BodyTab should become an integral part of overall health care provision because it reduces the risk of error due to misinformation and poor communication and because it empowers patients and their families to participate actively in their care.
“Having a comprehensive health history and contemporary, up-to-date record to hand in one file enables healthcare teams to give the patient the best advice and treatment,” he said.