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HIStalk Interviews Steven Liu, MD, Chief Medical Officer, Ingenious Med

June 27, 2016 Interviews No Comments

Steven Liu, MD is founder and chief medical officer of Ingenious Med of Atlanta, GA.

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Tell me about yourself and the company.

I’m the chief medical officer and founder of Ingenious Med, going back to 1999. I’m also a practicing physician. I started the company as a solution to help me as a clinician manage the practice and to capture charges and data.

Since we last talked in our interview four years ago, we’ve gotten way bigger and moved toward what we call the Right Side of Healthcare. We’re focused on helping clinicians change their behavior. We’re focused on cost reduction.

Describe the day in the life of a physician interacting with your system.

The platform is cloud- and mobile-based. We’ve moved outside of just physicians, which used to be our bread and butter. Now it’s physicians and the care team members who surround them — nurses, case managers, pharmacy, whoever. We have a heavy emphasis on the acute care space, the hospital space, where there’s a large part of cost.

The world is different these days. Clinicians have wear two hats. They have to put on the hat for their practice. But then they put on a second hat after they take care of the practice and do pro fees and work capture if they’re at risk. Then they focus on those other incentives to line up with their healthcare system — hospital throughput, transition, reducing readmission, and reducing avoidable days. All of those cost and quality things that weren’t front and center in traditional reimbursement schemes.

At the point of care, they use us on every single patient. We whisper back information, things that will change their behavior and make the entire acute care process more efficient. The results we’re getting are driving a lot of our growth these days.

People who work in academic medical centers sometimes forget that most of the non-hospitalist doctors in community hospitals work in their own practices and spend minimal time in hospitals, sometimes in more than one hospital using more than one information system. How hard is it to integrate those doctors with hospital-based care teams?

That’s part of our secret sauce. Because of our roots from way back when the majority of clinicians were affiliated — the employed drive hadn’t really taken off in the early 2000s — we grew our bones on affiliated private practice physicians. That’s how we got a great footprint. About five years ago, we started to become involved with enterprise enterprise rollouts with employed as well as affiliated physicians. The system was designed and being used by affiliated physicians.

You can think of us as a bridge. Alignment is a big focus of our company. The alignment is focused on the employed physicians, obviously, but the nice thing about it is that we’ve got the affiliated doctors.

I probably shouldn’t say this in this interview, but when we released our coordinated platform two years ago, I was trying to come up with brief wording on what to call it. I was saying, “It’s a clinician risk alignment platform” until someone pointed out that the acronym for that is CRAP. [laughs] I swear I didn’t catch that.

Still, that’s what it is. We’re agnostic to the EMR, sites, locations, and the employment model. We can change behavior.

It’s hard to get doctors to use something that doesn’t benefit them directly. What’s the “what’s in it for me” story for users?

Times are changing. A lot of people looked at us strangely when we said we can’t wait for MACRA, MIPS, and the drivers that are coming next year and in 2019.

As incentives change and people start to feel the pain, they have to align. Private physicians can’t keep their heads down and think of themselves as separate entities. To survive, especially for standalone practices, they’ve got to deliver on cost reductions and quality. Part of our platform is maximizing the revenue portion, but the other part addresses those other things like cost and bed days.

The conversations we’re having with clients or prospective clients are very much all about preparing for the new world of risk value-based reimbursement. All of our large enterprise deals are for what we do now, but also as they take on more risk contracts, all the stuff we’re doing with coordinate. They’re all preparing, although the industry is still moving slowly despite all this government push.

What is the low-hanging fruit of care team coordination?

One is alignment of incentives. If the hospital employs their physicians or if they have affiliations with practices, just based off their relationships with those physicians, the alignment incentives or reimbursement models that they have with those clinicians. If they’re not aligned and it’s straight, traditional fee-for-service, they’re not going to get the benefit. As long as the clinicians are aligned on reducing costs, being efficient, and having high quality, that’s a big, big one. It’s hard. It’s really hard.

Secondly, in the acute care space — even though that’s not where we primarily practice these days – it’s collaboration between disciplines. I’m not talking physician disciplines, but all the care team members. It’s still back in the Stone Age. When we go on site, sometimes there’s just no incentive for the physician to call up the case manager and spend an extra five minutes collaborating so they can get someone out safely that day as opposed to two days later.

There’s so much fat within the acute care space. A lot of people don’t realize it’s not a sunk cost. It really is a tremendous amount of inefficiency there that could be turned around.

You’ve had a long run with the company with changing technologies, getting funding, and bringing in new management. What are the top two or three lessons you’ve learned?

As the original founder, one learning point is that as the company grows, you need to grow with it. A lot of folks will be a little slow on the transition to bringing in senior talent, or in my case, bringing in a CEO to replace me, which I’ve done. We scaled and grew faster because we were able to split duties as we each focused on the important parts of the business that were critical to our success. That was one big one. If you can balance your ego for the bigger picture of the company, it’s so much more successful. You can grow faster and you have a broader talent base to execute.

Things change. The market changes. There’s a great saying: “If you’re coasting, you’re going downhill.” It’s so true. Innovation is a huge, huge part of being able to still kill it 15 or 16 years later.

It was probably right around when we had our last interview when we kicked off our next stage of innovation of, “How do we prepare for where the hockey puck is going?‘’ If it hadn’t been for that, we’d be in trouble. We would have a solution that was great that had great returns in the here and now, but wasn’t something that could also take the company to the next level as the world turned into value-based reform.

A constant focus on innovation and keeping an eye out for that. Innovation is hard. It’s not something that you can just pull out of the air and make happen. It is that right time, right place, and right mindset. Luck as well. We got lucky in a way and came up with a really wonderful solution.

You have health systems as investors. What value are health systems getting from creating their own venture funds or working with accelerators?

It makes sense. If you went to JP Morgan this year, every PowerPoint slide was about the incubators and investments the health systems are doing. It was more than I had ever seen. It’s a great idea. It helps them invest in technology they’re already interested in or are rolling out and to have an ability to influence it. 

We went through a majority recapitalization in October 2014 with North Bridge Growth Equity, but we ended up bringing in three other strategic investors — Ascension Health, Heritage Partners in Nashville, and Kaiser Ventures. What’s neat about it for companies is that you get to work with industry leaders. With the portfolio companies within those four investors, seven of the top 10 largest healthcare systems are investors within our company. We get to build for the nation’s largest healthcare systems. 

It’s great for us. Obviously you get contacts and many of them were already our clients, but it’s a great way for the healthcare systems that are investing to get exposed to transformative technologies that will help them pave their path to the new world, where it is a Wild West of technologies out there.

Do you have any final thoughts?

Our company has done well. We’ve really grown. We are used on one in five hospital admissions across the nation, so 20 percent of the nation’s hospitalized patients go through our system. It’s exciting to me because we’re whispering in the clinician’s ear at the point of care and influencing their behavior. It’s a responsibility, but also an opportunity to move the dial, change their behavior, and reduce cost.

I’m excited by the opportunity that I never imagined we would be given. We’re focused on all the things we could be doing to influence care. There’s nothing like being able to tell your employees that you might be able to change healthcare across the nation. It’s a fun and very stirring thing to be able to do. That’s what’s most exciting for me.

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