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HIStalk Interviews Jeff Surges, President, Healthgrades

September 8, 2014 Interviews No Comments

Jeff Surges is president of Healthgrades of Denver, CO.

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Tell me about yourself and Healthgrades.

I’ve been around the healthcare ecosystem for close to 25 years. I’ve spent a lot of my time on what you would traditionally call the vendor community in multiple settings — private companies, small and large companies, publicly held companies, and hybrid companies.

I’ve served in many different roles, mostly client- or customer relationship-facing roles as CEO and founder. Then in an operating role helping our customers — whether that’s hospitals, physicians, or extended care providers — efficiently maximize their resources to achieve the results set out by that particular project.

I’ve worked in all settings for multiple years. I think that’s code for, “I’m getting older.” It’s certainly an exciting time again in healthcare for all of us as we see more transformation happening.

Healthgrades is a multi-faceted company that I find amazing. It is a place where nearly one million people a day visit to find the right doctor, the right hospital, and the right care based on a number of ways to search our database of physicians and hospitals by diseases, conditions, or procedures. That starts the information gateway into Healthgrades.

Traditionally, Healthgrades was only in the quality business. It would use publicly available data to run a process of looking at quality metrics and quality data and help hospitals that achieved those results make their community aware of their prestigious status.

Eventually over time, Healthgrades — by partnering with a private equity firm out of New York, Vestar — added two additional components to the value proposition. One is a business that centers itself on CRM, or customer relationship management. The teams work with hospitals on patient engagement, patient access, and what would we now call today population health initiatives. But I think truly I’ve found a place where pop health is real.

Then also, because of the amount of information that the company has on doctors, hospitals, physicians, and care settings, we have a media portion of the business that works primarily with pharmaceutical companies bringing information real time to the point of search based on a consumer’s interest or activity from the site.

Quality, CRM solutions, and a consumer portal that’s leading the industry every day with nearly one million visitors per day.

 

A lot of sites offer doctor search. How is the demand for that changing and what are people doing with the information?

As we’ve seen over the last three or four years, transparency is becoming more and more important. As the healthcare landscape is changing, the informed consumer is finally awakening to the same destination we go to for other activities, whether we’re looking for a vacation, a home, a car, or a restaurant. If I’m new to a market, have a new health plan, or I am signing up for a personal plan, I want to search for my healthcare now and take more control of that.

The brand of Healthgrades is tried and true over a long period of time as being a trusted resource providing great transparency. The database we have on physicians, hospitals, procedures, and conditions and the ability to be flexible and to showcase those results at the point in time where those results are needed.

Of the visitors we get to the site every day, we know that within a week, an overwhelming majority of those – more than half of them — are going to schedule an appointment with a physician. You’re on the site to conduct some real-time, emotion-filled information search. Healthgrades has become a trusted resource over time as that destination on the consumer side.

 

Organizations pay to use their Healthgrades rating for marketing. How does the company make money otherwise, including from the search function?

The real misnomer traditionally on Healthgrades has been that there’s an award and then there’s a monetization of the award. What I’ve learned quickly from some of our top clients and customers is that the hospital achieves the awards. They’re achieving that through a methodology that the company has developed using publicly held data and information and then comparing that regionally and nationally. They achieve these awards based on their results and their performance.

The marketing department of a hospital — who is waking up every day more than ever trying to gain awareness and to inform their communities because competition is really high right now — has been engaging with our CRM platforms on a variety of communications. One might be that if you’ve achieved that award, to let your community know that you’re hospital excels in a particular category. Healthgrades has a platform in the marketing solutions area that helps hospitals inform their communities when making that tough decision on finding a doctor, hospital, or specialist.

 

Is there a solution to the problem that multiple services offer their own version of ratings or rankings and consumers can’t figure out which one to trust?

Unlike normal Internet search where you would go to a particular search engine, type in a key word, and then get multiple pages of information, those are more for convenience people that are looking to shop or looking to plan. What we know about healthcare is that when you need it, it needs to be there. It needs to be an actionable transaction. It’s got to be trusted.

With Healthgrades specifically focused on finding the right doctor and helping you search, finding the right hospital, and making you aware of the right care setting at that point in time, what I’ve come to appreciate quickly is how we’ve differentiated ourselves because of the longevity and the depth at which the company is using information to help you with that.

There is a lot of activity of people trying to be the next site and the next site. It reminds me years ago when the 1-800 services were around. Ultimately you had to get to a trusted resource. Healthgrades continues to lead in that. That’s one of the things that excited me about the company.

 

The company is using large data sets, some of which are publicly available. What are the possibilities with so-called big data?

I’m going to have a better answer in a year, but in my first 100 days with the company, what I have really respected about the interaction we have with the consumer, physicians, and hospital clients is the notion that there really is big data in IT.

What will continue to separate Healthgrades will be the ability to expose the data, expose the information, and present it in a way that gives you an informed look.

The term population health is trendy right now, but when you’re working with a hospital that’s trying to identify an aging population or segmenting them by a different category other than just gender, race, or payer type … you’re going to get into the disease, condition, or procedure because you want to let them know about screening and immunizations. You want to let them know that you’ve done some risk stratification and want to contact them because they haven’t had a scan or a screening done. Or you want to identify an opportunity because of the seasonality of allergy or flu.

There’s some real predictive models of data that Healthgrades has at its fingertips. It’s the first company I’ve worked at where the title “data scientist” is not just one or two people, but groups of people working side by side with the hospital’s team to identify those populations in the CRM platform and communicate with them across multiple channels. Not just print, social, digital, and electronic, but taking all those together to get the message out to the community.

It’s more than just, “come to our website.” It’s about keeping healthy in a time where people are looking to trust a resource to guide them on how to do that.

 

Healthgrades was acquired by a private equity firm a few years back. Having been through that in different places, how does that process work and what’s good and bad about it?

It comes in all shapes and sizes. There are varying degrees of the overall objective.

In the case of Healthgrades and their partnership with their investors, it’s about leveraging the Internet. It’s about leveraging the consumer’s activism. Being patient enough to understand that healthcare is an evolving industry that has survived the test of time.

In many ways, a large private equity organization thinks about a long-term strategy and wants to see that strategy initiate over time. I’ve been part of companies where you have a start-up, an early stage, a venture backed, or you have a smaller private equity that wants to go public. All of those can be good to support what the company’s trying to do at that point in time.

What I’ve come to appreciate and respect about the Healthgrades model is that, in many ways, we’re still at the beginning. Healthgrades is on the patient acquisition, patient engagement, and ROI side of the model at a time when healthcare is looking to see who the survivors are. There’s been so much consolidation through acquiring specialists, physicians, or other hospitals.

There’s a need at the board level of hospitals and at the CEO level of hospitals to start to think about delivering on the promise that a large, integrated network would mean more revenue, more growth, or more sustainable balance sheets.

Being on that side of the equation is new to me, but it’s also very exciting when you see the conversations that are going on around strategies on patient access, patient engagement, and population health initiatives.

 

What are the most important things that will tell us where healthcare IT will be in five years?

It’s a big question. Those of us who have been around for a few generations now have always thought that the next big thing was going to be the one that pushes healthcare over. Yet whether it was a supply chain era, the EMR era, and now as we move into the big data cloud computing analytics era, it’s just an evolution. It continues to evolve. Demand, the population, payer mix … there are too many forces to even predict it.

The biggest thing we need to do is help our customers who are in the center of it. They’re in the center of transformation, whether it’s governmental, planned change, accountable care, compliance, or quality. Helping them achieve those results in real time. Because to be here for the next wave means you have to survive and thrive in this wave.

Long term means one to two years in many ways. The results of our clients are the most important metrics we can be thinking about.

On the Healthgrades side, we help our clients gain better access to information, use that to target their audiences and their communities, and make sure that those who are approaching them are the most informed and can be the most efficient. Not only for that individual or family, but for the services that the customer wants to provide or the health system wants to provide.

 

Do you have any final thoughts?

It’s an exciting time. You’re going to see three things coming from Healthgrades.

One is a re-introduction of what I call the new Healthgrades. We’re going to be releasing a lot of data and analytics about our ratings in the fall and using very expressive ways to show how our methodologies can partner with quality and outcomes within a hospital.

If you lined up the T-bar and said on the right side is cost and then the left side is revenue, there is great hope and interesting opportunities helping our healthcare clients — physicians, hospitals, and post-acute settings –survive in this area. Using a CRM platform intelligently with data and analytics is very big.

But healthcare is very local and will always be, and so real-time information and access is going to continue to be of utmost importance. Mobility, social, and interacting with the various platforms is going to continue to challenge us.

That’s an exciting area to be in right now. It’s why I found Healthgrades and Healthgrades found me. It’s been a great fit right out of the gate.

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