Avizia CEO Mike Baird on the effects of the American Well acquisition and the future of telehealth

Avizia CEO and cofounder Mike Baird has grown his company from an ambitious startup to a major telehealth player that was recently acquired by industry giant American Well, and he has learned a number of valuable lessons along the way.

Mr. Baird took the time to catch up with Becker's about how his leadership responsibilities have changed as Avizia has grown and how he sees telehealth evolving in the coming years.

Editor's note: Answers have been edited lightly for length and clarity.

Question: What sets Avizia apart from other telehealth companies?

Mike Baird: We talk about empowering systemwide care, and I think the way we've distinguished ourselves is that Avizia's been solely focused on healthcare systems. We're not working on the employer side or with payers, we are all about hospitals and we help them across the continuum of care. If they want to do telestroke, if they want to do behavioral health, if they want to do primary care, urgent care consults, we are the only telehealth vendor who can enables them across that full spectrum. It's kind of our hallmark. We give them an enterprise platform to take their specialists and use them wherever they need to for telehealth.

Q: How does American Well's acquisition of the company change your day-to-day operations?

MB: I don't think it will change our day-to-day very much and our whole team will be intact moving forward, but it augments our company on a broader level. What we add to American Well are those acute care specialties, while they help us broaden our reach to not just be limited to the hospitals. They are the leader in urgent care specialties within the hospitals. While we offered that with Avizia, they augment that even more. American Well is also good at working with employers and payers as well as health system and other innovators. They have partnerships with companies like Cerner, Medtronic, Philips and Teva, and they do a fantastic job with those.

Q: How does leading a startup differ from leading an established organization?

MB: We've been in business for four and a half years and the reality is when you are team of 10 that's very different from being a team of 150. We've tried very hard to hire athletes, all-arounders, people that can excel across a wide variety of skill-sets. That's very important in the first couple of years in business when literally everyone is wearing 10 hats. As you start to get bigger, the first changes you start to make changes are on the leadership team. Now the same person is not the head of sales, marketing and IT, we can have separate heads for those departments and you start to get functional leaders. That transition continues to happen as you get bigger and bigger, then you add experts at the manager level and the individual contributor level.

Q: How do your priorities change as your organization grows?

MB: When you are a new startup you have one goal, and that is survival at any cost. And literally if someone wants to buy pen caps from you, you will sell pen caps. As we've grown and gotten bigger, that's evolved to a much more holistic scorecard. Today, because we've got functional leaders, we are now measuring goals within each of those functions. Today we have a scorecard of four primary goals for the company and associated goals that are tied to every function of the company. We are tracking 20 corporate-level goals and people can align their ownership accordingly. Each individual can hook up to the broader mission of the company.

Q: What will be the biggest development in telehealth in the next few years?

MB: Ubiquity. It's all about ubiquity. Particularly starting at the acute care side with services like telestroke, it's traditionally been a cart-driven marketplace. You've got to have these nice carts that you can use at the ED and that's where a lot of telehealth starts for many of these systems. That doesn't go away but that's literally the tip of the pyramid. In any given hospital you might have ten carts. Then you're going to have 100 patient rooms that are going to need at their own devices and you can leverage the monitors in that patient room to be a window into the telehealth world. Why isn't each one of those a telehealth station that I can use?

There are thousands of providers who each have a smartphone in their pocket which should be part of the way we drive telehealth for them, and millions of patients who also have smartphones and other devices. So my mission is servicing that pyramid of endpoints that all can access telehealth services and having an enterprise platform that can scale to millions and millions of consults. Literally every person and every device within our walls of hospital or within patients' pockets outside of the hospital can become a gateway to transform and improve patient care.

Q: What do you look for in potential partner organizations?

MB: What's wonderful about working in healthcare is that most of us have the same goal, which is, 'How do I transform patient care?' If they don't have that as their first or second goal on the company charter, they're not going to be a good partner for us. So that tends to be our best screening test of good partners. Beyond that they need to be tech savvy, innovative and drive for a culture of urgency. Those are the entities and organizations that we want to work with.

Q: What are some of the biggest misconceptions about telehealth?

MB: The biggest misconceptions are mirror images of each other. One is that telehealth is a no brainer and it's next big thing and the other is that telehealth is never going to happen. They are two sides of the same coin, and both are wrong. It is absolutely without a doubt going to be the way we engage with our care models in the coming years, we all believe it's going to happen, but on the flip side the skeptics have a point which is that it's hasn't gone as fast as we'd like it.  

Part of that is because of the slow adoption of healthcare systems and the lack of innovation and reluctance to change, generally speaking, but that doesn't mean we don't all have a role in driving that. My job then is finding better technology that's easier to roll out and more affordable that integrates us more, and devices and tools and a system that make it easier for the system to roll out. People either think it's the next big thing and we'll roll it out soon and it'll be great or they're so skeptical it's going to work that they don't put any momentum behind it.

Q: What healthcare problem gets you out of bed?

MB: It's a combination of reach and cost. Because you've to got to do both or it doesn't work. I personally worry about people in rural America and poor America, that they don't have insurance or access to care. Those are huge problems and there's no tool that solves that as well as telehealth. The second part of that is that it's not good enough to come up with a space shuttle equivalent that' solves the problem but is too expensive. We've got to be constantly pushing on the cost. Those two go hand in hand. By lowering the cost, we increase the reach, and by increasing the reach, we get people access to care, which I think is one of the biggest tragedies in healthcare today, which is unequal access to care.

More articles on telehealth:

Emory Healthcare teams up with Australian hospital on remote ICU
Alabama hospital uses telehealth to minimize travel times for kidney transplant patients
Report: One-third of patients who used a hospital's telehealth platform received in-person care at the facility within 1 year

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