Andrew Boden’s life has been in emergency medical care. Little wonder, then, that he was one of the founders of ER24. GAVIN MYERS gets to know this dynamic CEO.
Andrew Boden, CEO of ER24, could be credited with almost single-handedly starting one of the most comprehensive medical service provider companies in South Africa. I say “almost”, because Boden makes light of the fact that he did have “half a secretary” at the time. Even for someone who had an upbringing steeped in medical care, this is no small feat.
At the time, Boden had worked his way up through the ranks within the Mediclinic group and was employed as hospital manager of Mediclinic Pietermaritzburg, which he and his team turned into a successful and profitable operation. Mediclinic, as well as the then Afrox Healthcare (today known as Life Healthcare), realised there was a need for an ambulance service and, since there were already a few joint ventures between the two, a joint venture company was formed instead of each coming up with individual solutions.
In August 2000, 31-year-old Boden was tasked with setting up the fledgling ER24.
“I’ve been very lucky to be able to do things I’m really passionate about,” he says. “I love wildlife and my first job was as junior operations manager for a game lodge, which exposed me to a lot of the general management environment of a five-star lodge.” That gave him a good grounding before leaving to join Mediclinic – which was very much a “going home” for him.
“My father was a doctor and has been involved in emergency medical care since the 1976 Soweto riots, when Sandton Fire and Emergency brought him his first trauma patient out of Alexandra,” says Boden. “From that day on, my dad was very involved in emergency services and was one of the people who established the volunteer corps in Sandton and Randburg and was medical director of Sandton emergency services for many years.
“Because of my father’s involvement, from a young age (about 14 or 15) I was riding with him in his car to respond to all the serious calls,” Boden recounts. “I had a really good grounding in emergency care and medicine … my mom is a nurse as well,” he continues.
“So, going to Mediclinic was very comfortable – I had grown up running around what is now Mediclinic Sandton, helping my dad on weekends treat patients and generally just being involved. When I joined Mediclinic the offices were at Mediclinic Sandton and it was like going home.”
Fittingly, Boden recalls that one of the most valuable pieces of advice he was given after leaving the army was to put himself in an industry he was passionate about.
“What keeps me going and keeps me interested is the ability to try new things and exercise entrepreneurial flair – we have very much an entrepreneurial culture within ER24; the industry needs you to be flexible and that’s the bit I enjoy,” says Boden.
Boden’s own entrepreneurial spirit has pushed him to also start his own family businesses (a nursing home in KwaZulu-Natal, no less) and serve on a number of other boards outside of ER24.
“Every day is so different – I find myself in different cities on different days, dealing with different aspects of the business; it’s very varied.”
With the opportunity for private services to play a role in the still growing market, this variety is likely to continue, considering Andrew’s involvement in new products and services from site based medical services and primary and occupational clinic solutions. Boden notes that government’s National Health Insurance (NHI) scheme is yet to define a role for the private sector and labour legislation – particularly OHS legislation – is being tightened. He therefore sees a further opportunity to render services that previously weren’t a priority for the industry.
“When I was a youngster there just weren’t any private emergency services or private facilities; emergency medical services was dominated by municipal systems,” he says. However, the subsequent decline in municipal infrastructure slowly opened the way for private service providers.
The problem is that the industry has remained unregulated, says Boden, and therefore there are disparities in levels of service, quality and standards. “I think regulation is potentially on its way; the challenge will be to have a body that has teeth to monitor and ensure compliance.”
He is also excited about the growing trend towards benchmarking against global standards, as well as the big role technology is beginning to play. ER24, for example, currently has a pilot project running with the Western Cape government, whereby a comprehensive IT infrastructure allows for sharing of patient information between different points in the system. This enables medical teams to be better prepared to care for patients from the outset, and services and resources are not duplicated when attending to incidents.
With Boden at the helm, ER24 has certainly become a force to be reckoned with in South Africa’s private medical services industry. Today, the company boasts about 900 staff directly employed by ER24; a fleet of around 230 vehicles; and a full call centre infrastructure that handles around 45 000 calls a month on 084 124 – and about 2,5 million calls a month on the contracted-out service, 112.
All in all, ER24 offers the full spectrum of services required of a fully integrated assistance company. Boden has certainly set a precedent for the industry to follow.