Startup Insider: Patientco

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Bird Blitch will be the first to tell you that Atlanta-based Patientco, which he cofounded and helms as CEO, isn't his first rodeo.

"I love startups," Mr. Blitch says. "I started my first company at 26."

That company, BroadSource, developed expense management software for telecommunications and mobile billing. Trends he noticed while working in this sector impelled him to tackle the healthcare billing problem via Patientco.

"Most people have looked at their cell phone bill and found it very confusing," Mr. Blitch says. "I often like to tell people that the only bill that's more confusing, more arduous to pay is your healthcare bill and there is more than one of them."

Patientco's focus is on addressing the complex billing issues healthcare organizations wrestle with and trying to solve all of the unexpected problems those issues are linked to in the process, he says.

Mr. Blitch spoke with Becker's Hospital Review about what it was like to startup in healthcare and how hospital billing is like balancing an impossible checkbook.

Question: How does Patientco address billing issues for healthcare organizations?

Bird Blitch: Patientco is a payment technology company for healthcare. What we're able to do that is unique is take different types of payments across multiple locations in a hospital system, process and reconcile those payments, then post them back to the proprietary billing systems or practice managements systems or health information systems they came from. That's something that doesn't really exist in healthcare today. You've got lots of different payments coming in, in lots of different directions.

I'll bring you back to the idea of balancing your personal checkbook. It's very complicated, so imagine if as a healthcare organization you had to balance 30 of those checkbooks everyday for 30 days in a month. It's difficult, and even being off by just 25 cents in one of them you're pulling your hair out trying to figure what went wrong. Sometimes in health systems they're off by as much as two or three hundred thousand dollars and they have no choice but to throw their hands up and let it go because they can't figure it out. What Patientco does is address those imbalances from the root cause and work them back out, and when you do that you find there are all kinds of other interesting problems you didn't know were there that can be solved all at once. So we kind of bring all of those solutions together for a provider in one place.

Q: What are some of those other problems that crop up when balancing the "checkbook"?

BB: You start looking at payment streams where they come from. If they come from a patient you start looking at whether that patient understands where and how to pay. So when you button it all up you're looking at a much bigger problem, which is a shift in patient responsibility. Hospitals, health systems and providers now have a much higher burden around the payments portion of the revenue cycle piece. The fastest growing part of the revenue cycle is the patient responsibility portion. A lot of that's because of high-rising deductibles and the cost of healthcare. If you add to that the confusion of receiving multiple bills, it becomes a really inefficient process from a time and cost standpoint for hospitals to build, manage, process and those all of those transactions together. On top of that, the billing platforms healthcare systems run differ between different groups and facilities. So nobody really has a full view of what a patient owes and what a patient has paid except the patient themselves and it's even difficult for them.

So when we break that payment down all the way out to how you communicate with patients, you peel back the layers of the onion and what you find in the middle is something very interesting. That's where we've started.

Q: Was it difficult making the transition to healthcare?

BB: If you're really focused on solving a problem that is growing — as long as you focus on solving it really, really well — you'll build momentum. In any industry momentum is what's key. What we've found around payments is until most recently it was a problem [healthcare organizations] didn't really know there was a solution for. On top of that, they're dealin­g with some existing infrastructure problems and vendors that sometimes have some excess baggage. So you've got to think through that problem because your job as a company is not just to solve it but to make it exciting and easy.  

Q: What is 2016 looking like for Patientco?

BB: One exciting piece of news has been around an investment from Pamplona Capital Management simply because they realize the importance of payments in healthcare. Traditionally payment processors haven't worked really well with the healthcare IT platforms out there, and the dollars and data don't really marry up well. When you're thinking about how much we're talking about, $650 billion of patient responsibility travels back and forth between patients and providers annually. So what Pamplona brings for us is credibility. They're doing some very exciting things in healthcare as well. We've been able to surround the business more as healthcare leaders who understand the challenges that leaders are facing everyday. I think it's going to allow us to expand the team and technology platform more. I couldn't be more exited about it because they understand the problem from the bottom up, not the top down.

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