Startup Insider: Healthfinch

The advent and widespread adoption of EHRs has carried with it promises of improved outcomes and a better healthcare system overall, but it's not without its share of growing pains. One of these growing pains, widely cited by proponents of both regulatory and technical EHR reform, is the time physicians must sacrifice to perform menial, repetitive tasks, such as simple data entry and case management. In 2011, the minds behind Healthfinch were anticipating this problem and began formulating a way to fix it.

"I was spending a lot of time with clinicians, with healthcare workers on all levels, and it became apparent really quickly to me that in general, they were overwhelmed with the amount of work being placed on them," says Jonathan Baran, CEO and co-founder of Healthfinch. "These individuals are being asked to see 20 patients per day and then beyond that are being asked to spend four hours doing what we would classify as routine repeatable work, work that we could help get off their plate by using technology."

Mr. Baran started Healthfinch — his "life's work" — right out of a PhD program at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. Along with his co-founders, Mr. Baran thought that a vehicle for addressing this problem of overwhelming, repetitive tasks being asked of busy clinicians could come in the form of an application that "sits" on top of existing EHRs.

"That really started the Healthfinch journey," he says. "At that point we knew we really wanted to become the best in one small corner of the world."

Mr. Baran took time to talk to Becker's about problems other industries have solved that healthcare hasn't, why so many apps are patient-focused and how to regain physicians' time.

Q: Which "small corner" of the healthcare world is Healthfinch aiming to address?

Jonathan Baran: In a nutshell, what we're doing at Healthfinch is building technology platforms that sit on top of the EHR and automate routine clinical tasks. One workflow area that is very time consuming and falling on many outpatient clinics today in a big way is prescription refill requests. For patients on chronic medication, the task of handling these refills normally falls on physicians. So patients taking regular medication, such as those with high cholesterol, diabetes or hypertension, run out of their prescriptions, and the pharmacy creates a refill request. That request is sent to the provider who then must determine whether or not they are going to give the patient more medication by answering a number of questions, including when is the last time this patient was seen? When did they last have lab work done? Was the lab work normal, etc.? They have to answer these and more before they approve a refill requests. Our technology solution automates this process, so either no one has to devote time to doing it, or other members of a care team, such as pharmacy technicians, nurses and medical assistants are enabled to take over the work in a safe and efficient manner. We are developing ways to address these workflows that are highly repeatable in nature, but are really clogging up the system today.

Q: Your background is more on the engineering side rather than the clinical side, but you've worked with clinicians to build the Healthfinch technology. What challenges arise when designing for healthcare compared to other sectors?

JB: There are a number of challenges. Fundamentally the first thing you think about is that for healthcare, the underlying technology infrastructure is really in its infancy. Every other industry takes it for granted that there's electronic data that you can begin to do something with. But in the world of healthcare, we've very much in the early stages of that right now. Many health systems are still implementing their EHR systems and you can't really do much in an automated fashion until you have data. That brings up questions that other industries have solved that we still haven't yet solved in healthcare. A big one is obviously EHR integration. Integration, largely speaking, in healthcare has been solved. That problem but when you spend any amount of time in healthcare, you see it's very much a real problem today and something that doesn't have a great solution at this point. I think another point as far as challenges go is we have a number of individuals that have worked outside of healthcare and are now a part of Healthfinch. The challenges they face is we have a significant ramp up time for some of our engineers in just understanding healthcare. It's a very complex, intertwined system across the board, from who pays for it to how work gets done to even what a typical provider's data looks like. That ramp up is significant and I think it causes potential innovators in the space to veer toward what they know as opposed to where the biggest impact will be, therefore you get a lot more patient-focused applications because that's what people are familiar with. But there is this significant pent-up demand for technology to come into the provider's world and we're just in the infancy of seeing that through.

Q: Who is using your software and what has the feedback been like so far?

JB: A number of health systems are using our technology at the moment, more than 1,800 physicians overall. We've had significant positive feedback in that this is a great way to get 15-30 minutes of physician work off of their plate. That's one of the primary reasons health systems adopt us, they're able to take that work off of the physicians. What another segment of our customers fall into is a more nurse-driven model, where nurses or other staff are taking over this work on behalf of the physicians and what we can do is come in and make that process even faster. One of our major health system customers has 250 primary care physicians and their nursing staff handles that work. That nursing staff was using 13 full-time RNs to handle prescription refills, so all they did was monitor an incoming stream of these requests and they would check them against a protocol that would require them to jump into the EHR to ultimately come to a decision. At this particular system, we introduced our product and they were able to reassign nine and a half of those full-time RNs and at the same time they increased the number of supportive providers from 250 to close to 400. That's just one example but we've been able to drive significant value and ROI with our customer base.

Q: How has the company been funded thus far?

JB: To date, Healthfinch has taken in just under $3 million in outside capital. Early on we had groups we worked with, seed funds and angel investors. Since then we've begun to work with more established firms.

Q: Beyond prescription refills are there other workflow areas that Healthfinch hopes to expand to help streamline?

JB: We absolutely do. I can't talk any specifics, but there are a number of areas that we're getting into that fall into the same category of workloads that bog down physicians and staff that can we can address using technology solutions.

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