Alan Portela is CEO of AirStrip Technologies of San Antonio, TX.
Tell me about yourself and the company.
I’m the CEO at AirStrip Technologies. I have about 20 years of experience in healthcare information technology. I came from the EMR side in the past. I have been on the board of AirStrip for about two years and have been the CEO for a little short of two years, since January 2011.
When I came to AirStrip, the core business was mobilizing medical devices — specifically in obstetrics — on the inpatient side. We were accessing fetal surveillance on mobile devices with 510(k) class II FDA clearance. We were the only company doing this with FDA clearance. We remain today the only company doing this with FDA clearance.
Since then, the company moved into mobilizing other medical devices in the inpatient care setting and adding applications for ambulatory care as well. We introduced a cardiology product, which is now deployed in about 60 medical centers. We also introduced a patient monitoring component for mobile devices. All of our medical device connectivity products are cleared with the same classification by the FDA.
Next, we’re moving into the home health space with a partnership we formed with Qualcomm Life to be able to take management of chronic diseases outside of the hospital walls into a patient / population-centric approach.
I interviewed Cameron Powell – the president, co-founder, and chief medical officer — in early 2010. He said that contrary to what people might think, AirStrip is not just a vendor of mobile waveform display applications, but instead is a mobile solution that can expose any data. How will that influence the direction of the company?
I’d like to talk a little bit about the industry trends, how we fit in, and how we evolved as a company to where we are today.
When I started at AirStrip, the comment I received from the members of the team is that AirStrip was viewed at that time — two years ago — as a nice-to-have tool. Mobility overall was viewed as the first technology that healthcare organizations were going to deploy as soon as they were finished with the implementation of their electronic medical records and electronic health records systems to comply with Meaningful Use requirements, at the time Stage 2 and moving to other stages in the future.
My comment coming from the EMR world to my team was, “Well, good luck, because it’s going to take a long time until the process of EMR and EHR deployment is ready. There’s always a new tool that is coming up and a new product that is coming out.” That was the market trend.
I stated to the team that there are a number of initiatives and challenges that we need to look at in the industry. One is the shortage of caregivers. We have known since the Leapfrog Report that there is a shortage of caregivers. Now as we’re going into an outcomes-based reimbursement model and a patient-centric care approach, everything is centered more around the specialists and the top chronic diseases – a cardiologist for heart disease, endocrinologist for diabetes, neurologist for stroke.
What we need to do is leverage mobile technology to bring the data to the specialists and the primary care physicians wherever they are, rather than bringing them to the data. Mobile technology has to become a mission-critical tool to be able to bring the clinically relevant data to those caregivers at the right time, so that they can make the right decisions.
We started looking at mobility throughout the continuum around chronic diseases. When we shifted our messaging to a patient-centric approach, we started experiencing significant growth. In 2011, we grew about 300% over 2010. We started signing contracts, developing partnerships with large healthcare organizations like HCA, Dignity, Vanguard, et cetera that clearly saw the importance of using mobile technology not only to attract patients to their facilities, but also to attract physicians to their systems by offering the right tools and improving their quality of life.
As we looked at this whole thing, we said if we are mobilizing one of the most important clinical data sources — medical devices — throughout the continuum, we need to make sure that we look at the other clinical data sources that are going to make the physician’s life much better. Immediately we looked at EMRs and EHRs. About three months ago, we acquired the intellectual property of a product that was developed at a healthcare organization by physicians on a very similar platform with a very similar approach as what we have done with medical devices. We acquired the IP for a mobile EMR extender.
This is where the other trend comes in. As you see more organizations creating ACOs to manage population health, you’re starting to see that a number of providers are expanding outside themselves by buying more hospitals or acquiring surgery centers, urgent care centers, imaging centers and the like. They’re adding to their systems. Mostly likely they are going to have multiple EMR vendors, even though primarily they were using one particular EMR or EHR vendor.
The moment you do that, it’s the same thing that we experienced on the medical device side. You’re going to have multiple vendors in different units. You need to have a seamless way of mobilizing all those devices into one view.
What we realized was that by buying the IP for this mobile EMR extender, we now needed to do the same thing we did with mobilizing medical devices — mobilize all EMRs and EHRs into one single view, being able to move data across the continuum and having physicians look at one view of their world, improving their workflow.
Of course, there are other things that we have to include. Later on, we’re going to look at imaging and at third-party components that we can apply on top of our platform. Then we will look into videoconferencing to be able to offer the complete solution.
I always talk about that announcement from Steve Jobs when he introduced the iPhone. He said, “It’s not a Web browser. It’s not a phone. It’s not an iPod. It’s everything in one.” That became a revolutionary announcement. What we are basically telling the industry now is, it’s not a medical device, it’s not an EMR/EHR, it’s not an imaging system. It’s all in one, fully integrated on a mobile device, bringing the data to the physicians in one view wherever they are. We create that whole concept of the virtual physician in a way we have all been trying to do for a long time.
The key is to be able to now support data standardization throughout the care continuum, looking at things like CCD — continuity of care documentation — as a standard, and also looking at how we can move HL7 data to create a true healthcare information exchange and take advantage of things that the government has made available to us. This includes NHIN Direct or NHIN Connect for routing, data warehousing and also for an enterprise master person index.
Today the company has evolved beyond medical device mobility. Now we’re mobilizing EMRs/EHRs in a seamless way for physicians. We are now working with the existing standards the same way we’ve been working with the FDA requirements. We’re looking at the standards for data standardization, nomenclature and healthcare information exchange to be able to support the care continuum.
I think that AirStrip now offers is equivalent to what Steve Jobs announced for the iPhone. I think that AirStrip is the next generation of healthcare transformation — being able to put everything into one view for caregivers.
The company is fairly new to have gotten this far with remote monitoring solutions and FDA approval. Are you concerned about what it will take to go after those goals you mentioned?
We all have to recognize that the transformation is necessary and we need to stick to the things that we know, that will be able to make a difference. Transformation will take place thanks to our mobile platform.
I always make the comparison of operating systems on your devices. On your PC, you have Microsoft, or on any Apple device, you have the O/S, the operating system. The true value that you bring to improve workflow in any industry comes from the ability to apply technologies or applications on top of those operating systems. For us, we have the same situation, but we not only have good applications in the mobile space, but we have a very solid platform that we view as becoming that platform or operating system in healthcare that is going to allow for us to bring not only our modules, but other third-party components on top of our platform to be able to solve the problems that we are discussing.
From a development standpoint, what we’re going to do is stick to our core. Today, our core is mobilizing medical devices, EMRs and EHRs. When it comes to imaging and videoconferencing, all we’re going to do is look at third-party packages, plug them into our platform, and then use standards to be able to support single sign-on, content management, and as I spoke about earlier, healthcare information exchange to move the data around.
The key for us, and we’re doing, is to pick those healthcare organizations that are the visionaries and partner with them to be able to move in baby steps toward implementing this huge transformation — but do it in a way that we start region by region — medical devices, EMRs, EHRs and then bring the tools to those regions to be able to replicate that model in other geographies. What we’re doing is carefully picking those healthcare organizations that have the right vision and have the right clinical level of expertise and the right intentions to improve outcomes while reducing cost. Then, working with them, we take things to the next level.
When I’m talking about the vision, I’m really explaining a vision that we’re planning to achieve in the next 12 months. Although the technology is ready today, the bigger challenge is continuity of care. It’s allowing all those systems that the hospitals have to be able to comply with the standards that already exist.
How big is the company today in terms of revenue and headcount and how large it will need to get in the near term?
As a privately held company, we don’t share our revenue figures, but I can tell you that when I came in about two years ago, we were probably about 20 people. We have over 100 already. We have offices in San Diego, Nashville, Chicago, and our headquarters is in San Antonio — that’s where the company started.
As I mentioned to you when I talked about the growth of last year, we added a lot of presence with some key customers. We introduced our cardiology solution officially about 10 months ago and we already have anywhere between 57 to 60 hospitals installed. We already have contracts with another 200 to go live over the next 12 months.
We definitely see a significant growth in the company, but where we are putting most of the emphasis is on what we call clinical / business transformation. We clearly identified that technology is just an enabler of transformation. Transformation happens as a result of aligning people and process as drivers, with technology as an enabler. We created a whole new team where we brought physicians from the top consulting firms to work with us to be able to partner with our customers –you’re going to see some announcements in this area coming out in the next few weeks – to partner with customers to deliver the value proposition.
I believe that technology moving forward is not going to be acquired unless the technology pays for itself, clearly proves out the value proposition on a daily basis and is aligned with the requirements for ACO and Meaningful Use. That’s also why one of the acquisitions we made about two weeks ago was a Meaningful Use tracker to be bundled with our EMR enhancer. We believe that the EMR enhancer on mobile devices is going to increase decision, adoption and utilization and that automatically creates the compliance with Meaningful Use, being able to go to Level 1 and Level 2 much faster.
You have an extensive background in selling systems to the federal government. Do you see that in AirStrip’s future?
Yes. As you know, I was part of the team that installed 60 medical centers at the Department of Defense and 30 at the VA. That is close to my heart. My biggest passion before coming to AirStrip was to help those wounded warriors. Today’s environments are more dramatic. You look today at shortening stent time, event-to-balloon time, for a patient that has a full blockage of the arteries. You look at the wounded warriors, you have to immediately react to patients that are injured in the battlefield and take them through several layers of care until you bring the right outcomes to those kids.
My goal is take this to the federal government and be able to learn from what they have done in areas like security. The federal government is doing security at a level that no one else is doing yet in the private sector. We’re going through that process as we speak because we want to bring that lesson to the private sector – security from the federal government. We also want to bring the experience that we have in the private sector to all the things that we’re doing in the military space. So, yes, it’s definitely an area that we’re planning for.
Do you anticipate further acquisitions or going public at some point?
At this point we are backed by Sequoia. We just closed our third funding round with the Wellcome Trust group, who are very close partners with Sequoia. Now we have a strong 18 to 24 month plan to be that game-changer in healthcare.
That’s our immediate goal. How can we make the transformation to the point that everybody will look back two years from now and say, “AirStrip recognized the importance of virtualizing the caregivers and supporting the patient / population-centric model.” Everybody will remember the types of discussions that we’re having, how we were able to do that by collaborating with large progressive health systems as partners but also large EMR/EHR vendors and medical device companies. We are talking to all of them. We are looking at all of those as partners in full collaboration.
The idea of IPO is not something that we are concentrating on right now. We are enjoying this incredible growth. Acquisitions of other products that will be synergistic to our vision … we are always open to that.
Any final thoughts?
The key moving forward is coming up with the right technological approach and partnering with the right people and the right processes to be able to transform healthcare. But when we talk about people, we have to recognize that that we are talking about the provider, the payers, the vendor community, the systems integrators, all working together and collaborating to be able to sustain the transformation.
We know that transformation is coming. The sense of urgency has been established. This is where you’re going to see more collaboration between all the sectors, more than you have ever seen before. The ones that do not collaborate are the ones that are going to be left out.