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HIStalk Interviews Eric Rosow, Chairman and CEO of Premise

Eric Rosow
Photo: Hartford Courant

I was certain I knew Eric Rosow of Premise when he introduced himself as a new HIStalk sponsor, but I couldn’t place him. Finally, I remembered: I had seen his presentation at the 2002 HIMSS conference in Atlanta called “Real-time Executive Dashboards and Virtual Instrumentation: Solutions for Healthcare Systems”. It was one of a handful that I thought were interesting enough to cull out for further review, the idea that a feed of information and instrument sources could, like a car’s dashboard, provide an array of information needed to keep the vehicle operating efficiently and going in the right direction.

Patient throughput and its underlying components (patient assignment, bed managment, housekeeping, and patient transportation) have an enormous impact on hospitals that I’ve seen first-hand: ED waits, patient satisfaction, staff satisfaction, and even clinical outcomes (another great HIMSS presentation from years ago was from CareScience, which dealt with bed assignment and the clinical variation that occurs when nursing units get patients whose needs are vastly different from the average patient on that unit).

Hospitals need the kind of measurement and transparency that products like Premise’s can provide. Many (most?) of them have the expensive symptoms of poorly managed patient throughput. No wonder Premise has enjoyed growth of over 2,000% in five years.

Tell me about yourself and about Premise.

First, I have to say that I feel like I’m talking to an underground celebrity. I really love your blog. It’s just so refreshing and humorous and insightful and thought-provoking. It looks like at the rate you’re growing, it could blossom into a great vehicle for communication.

I’m a geek by definition, in some respects. I’m an engineer by training. I went to Trinity College here in Hartford, Connecticut. I majored in mechanical engineering and then got my Masters in biomedical engineering.

My Masters program had an internship, so not only did I get my degree in biomedical engineering, I also spent two full years at St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center in Hartford. That’s really where I fell in love with applied technology in healthcare. After graduating, I got to row with the US team for a couple of years, which was a great experience to see other parts of the world. I then went back to Trinity and taught for a year. It’s very true that you have to learn something to teach it.

After that, I joined Hartford Hospital as clinical engineer, where I was immersed in front lines of healthcare delivery and the role that technology can play in addressing those challenges. I did a 13-year stint at Hartford Hospital and was the director of biomedical engineering for the last seven. I served on the capital committee and was involved with the technology assessment of major projects, including enterprise-wide monitoring and re-engineering engagements.

It was the reengineering initiatives in late 1990s that led to the opportunity to develop what we now call our bed management platform. Hartford Hospital was faced with a number of challenges. A top initiative there was to find, build, or buy enabling technologies to help streamline capacity management/bed management. They had looked at different solutions on the market, but felt there was need for better communication and better integration of clinical information. That provided the opportunity to co-develop the Bed Management Dashboard.

I love the sport of rowing and helped started a rowing team in our town. Through that experience, I learned to value the passion, the teamwork, and the commitment that can come with a high-performing team. I think that experience fostered the entrepreneurial DNA that must have been in me. Or, the lack of a fear gene – I’m not really sure which [laughs] that resulted in us creating this crazy thing called Premise.

Premise is an interesting ride. It wasn’t just, “Let’s go off and create this thing called Premise.” It started out as two guys in the basement, myself and a long-time friend and colleague named Joe Adam. We met as high school lab partners. We were the yin and yang of complementary skill sets. In the early days, we were more of a consulting firm. Over time, we evolved to apply our applications to product-focused and decision support and business intelligence, ultimately to workflow applications. That was the next generation of Premise, in the late 90s, where we evolved from consulting and data acquisition and data presentation and focused on how we could apply those tools and visualization dashboard metaphors to really impact healthcare. For me as a biomedical engineer, it was such as great intersection of connecting devices and communications with workflow and safety and efficiency initiatives.

Hospitals used management engineers a lot a few years back to find and fix process problems. Did that work and are they using them enough today?

One of the ways I got engaged in developing the bed management dashboard was that I was one of first non-GE employees to go through GE’s Six Sixma quality training. Whether it’s management engineer or TQM or CQI or Six Sigma, I think the goal of trying to make informed decisions based on data and trends is what will always be required in healthcare, particularly given the challenges of aging nurses and baby boomers, the perfect storm that’s happening with capacity demand.

Hospitals respect the science of management engineering in day-to-day operations, but saying and doing it are two different things. In our focus area of capacity management, there’s a huge opportunity where information technology can play a huge role in improving that. Specifically, in things that IT is really good at – providing transparency across the organization, analyzing variation, looking at historical trends like where are peak discharges and admissions by time of day, day of week, time of year – and most importantly, streamlining communication among stakeholders.

MRSA is an example of where, when we developed our application, it was really important from the get-go to provide that type of clinical information so that caregivers could take the precautions they needed to and not put patients at risk, particularly if they’re in a semi-private room.

How big a problem is patient throughput in hospitals?

It’s amazing to me how ubiqitious it is, not only in large hospitals, but small hospitals, and not only here in the US, but internationally. We’ve been fortunate to work with a lot of great thought-leading hospitals, places like Cleveland Clinic, Mass General, MD Anderson, and even recently at a kickoff for our first international application at Singapore General Hospital. Places like that who have lived through the SARS epidemic have an even greater appreciation for the challenges when it comes to emergency management. The day-to-day issues include ED wait times, the metrics around diversion, people who leave without treatment, satisfaction indicators, not only people coming from what we call portals of entry, like ED and ancillary areas, but are transfers from other hospitals.

The challenge I’ve seen is that ED backups or diversions and OR and PACU backups are symptoms of a much broader patient flow challenge. Studies have been done that show that ED wait time isn’t necessarily tied to volume or ED staffing, but the visibility of upstream bed capacity. That’s the challenge in hospitals from 100 to 1600 bed hospitals throughout the world. The opportunity to create virtual capacity by better utilization of existing beds is important, especially when we’re seeing bricks and mortar and cranes helping to build out capacity, but at a cost of half a million to a million dollars per bed, plus several years to do that. That’s the real benefit.

It’s looking at the right metrics. The bed turns in a year or in a given time period is a key operating metric that all hospitals need to monitor in real time to better manage their operation.

What are the symptoms that your hospital has a throughput problem and do executives recognize them?

Certainly diversion, excessive wait times in ED, people who leave without treatment, operating room cancellations or delays or backups in PACU. Corresponding derivative effects of that are upset physicians, caregivers, and surgeons who have to cancel or delay their cases due to lack of ICU or stepdown beds for patients to go to after the surgery. Also the challenge of what we call the shell game, where patients are placed on off-service units. An orthopedic patient who’s had their hip done that morning may go to a medical floor. That creates a whole host of challenges. Those units are not trained to manage an orthopedic patient and they are often placed in a temporary holding state. Medications and meals may play catch-up as the patient moves from one holding area to another. You create work for the organization because you’ve got a bed that was occupied that has to be cleaned and prepared for another patient to come in.

There’s great efficiency if you can get them to that right level of care the first time. We’ve seen hospitals that have done more than 40 intra-unit transfers per day. You’re just not getting the throughput you need because of poor visibility across the enterprise. In our experience, capacity management in many hospitals is reactive and decisions made round a diversion, cancellations, and delays are made without good, real-time information that can support these decisions. That’s the biggest value that Premise is focusing on – increasing that visibility and decision support.

Can throughput problems be fixed without an actively managed patient transportation program?

Clearly it’s a continuum. I’ll go on record as saying that you can’t fix throughput with any technology solution. It’s a holistic approach looking at as-is, the to-be state, gap analysis to configure a solution to manage that continuum. The way we look at it is that you’ve got a circle – a portal of entry, bed assignment, bed management. Then, you need the transportation on site to move the patient and/or assets and other equipment to their room and level of care. Communicating all the activities throughout the length of stay to discharge, when a housekeeping event occurs and the room and bed are cleaned. We were originally focused on clinically driven bed management and evolved to environmental service functionality. Our newest module, Transportation Dashboard, provides that visibility across the transportation team as well.

Are hospitals getting better at discharge planning?

I think they’ve had to. As more information becomes available, it becomes easier to plan. The challenge we’ve seen is this notion of hiding beds. People can only make decisions only based on timeliness and accuracy of the data they have. Patients may leave the hospital at 10 in the morning, but that event may not be broadly visible across the organization. If you’re looking only at one ADT system, it could appear that that patient is still up there occupying that bed. That’s the type of mis-information that can create a cascading effect of backups. That continues to be a challenge in terms of visibility in discharge planning and overall patient flow.

Hospitals often think that bed turnover is a housekeeping issue. Is it?

No, I absolutely don’t think so. I often think one of the most rewarding aspects of our solution and the clients we’ve worked with is vindicating and supporting what a great job the housekeeping departments actually do. Because housekeeping departments may not have all the tools and data to support the job they do, they can be the easiest to blame. By providing metrics such as response time to a cleaning request and bed turnaround time, and doing that both on a shift and employee basis, Premise can really empower an organization to see where the bottlenecks can be in their patient flow process. In general, they’re not with housekeeping.

Can census levels be predicted?

I think hospitals can predict some of them. Certainly if you’ve got scheduled procedures, you can see what’s coming up. You can look at histograms and historical trends and control charts of what patterns have been historically for different regions of the country. There is a growing capability with some of the business analytic tools to look at what patterns have been and to use that going forward.

Having been at Hartford Hospital on 9/11, a tragic day for this whole world, the ability to look at patients that were in the hospital that day … there were only three open beds that morning and calls were coming down from state and federal authorities. There were two questions: how many beds do you have available right now by type and how many can you have available in one, two, and three hours from now? Without technology to augment your hypothesis, it would be almost impossible for many hospitals to answer that question. Hartford was able to free up over 140 beds that day to make room for anticipated casualties from New York City, which tragically never came.

What’s the ROI on your products?

There are different pain points for different organizations. Many we’ve worked with have looked purely at their ability to increase admissions without increasing their bed compliment or increasing their staff. Going back to virtual capacity and making better use of the beds they have. Other ROI elements can tie in to reduction in diversion, reduction in OR delays and cancellations. We’ve developed quantitative and qualitative ROI metrics that may or may not apply to a particular hospital’s geography or challenges.

We’re seeing more and more organizations view patient flow as a strategy, not just a problem. It’s critical, it’s real time, it’s strategic. The ability to increase efficiency and therefore profitability is why inpatients are such a high profile. It also plays an important role in patient and staff satisfaction. Chief nursing officers and other leaders use tools that help manage beds and and patient flow as a recruiting tool that makes it a more desirable place to work. All the years I’ve worked with nurses and physicians, they want to do the best job possible and take care of patients like they’ve been trained to. When you have such a potentially out of control system with patients not appropriate for their population, that can create anxiety and risk. Getting the patient in the right bed the first time is critical.

What vendors are competitors to Premise and how would you compare your offerings to theirs?

Certainly the market continues to mature. The vendors we typically see are Tele-Tracking, who I have a lot of respect for; Navicare; Statcom as a pure play vendor as well; and certainly Awarix is a really impressive company and obviously McKesson thought so as well. Those are the pure play vendors we see most often. The large healthcare IT vendors have some functionally. We see ourselves as complimentary to them. We can work in concert with the big HIT or ADT vendors out there. It’s good for the market that we’re all raising the bar, all bringing features and functions to bear as strategy that allows hospitals to better utilize their beds.

In terms of differences, our architecture is open, flexible, based on industry standards. We’re a Microsoft technology platform. We’re unique in the clinical functionality we use to match the patient’s clinical attributes to their level of care. If a patient presents with chest pain and tuberculosis and MRSA, we might need to find a bed with a patient monitor and negative pressure capability in that room. We used to joke that if you have a Yankee fan and Red Sox fan, you may not want to put them in the same semi-private room during the playoffs.

There’s all kind of attributes that may not be readily apparent. Some hospitals have to track gang affiliations. You don’t want to put rival gang members in semi-private room. This ability to complement ADT demographic data with specific attributes, like monitoring infectious disease, is really important to optimize the patient flow experience.

We want to have a highly intuitive look and feel and an easy-to-use user experience. We have patent pending technology called our Intelligent Workflow Engine to optimize and load level how tasks are assigned, particularly in the area of bed turnover, environmental service/housekeeping, and transportation tasks.

I do think it’s not just about technology. You don’t just double click the install button and it’s done. We measure the as-is state and the to-be state based on desired outcomes, and then gap analysis. We bring subject matter experts, a number of clinicians who are nurses with backgrounds in clinical patient flow, project managers, and technical specialists to make sure that when we go live with client, we tune that application to align with their desired workflow. For that reason, our solution may not be right for everybody, but for those it is, it will fit like a glove when we’re done.

Deloitte recognized Premise for outstanding growth of nearly 2300% over five years, one notch behind Google. How did you create that growth and how do you manage it?

We’ve certainly been excited to have grown the way we have. We joke internally that we were right behind Google in terms of statistics, so we love that “lies, damned lies, and statistics.” [laughs] We have great people who have a lot of experience in building companies and also focusing on what’s important. Our goal isn’t to grow, it’s to have 100% referencability. People here are exceptionally passionate. We say we have a company, but we have a mission to make a meaningful difference in healthcare. Hiring the right leaders, the right skill sets and, most importantly, the right culture and chemistry is key to any high performing organization.

In some cases, we’ve been better served by hiring people from outside of our industry. We recently created a chief technology officer position and, after an extensive search, hired a person from the digital media space, somebody familiar with innovation, user experience, and time to market, unencumbered by the traditional healthcare IT world. That has been an advantage for us to innovate. We also made a decision, for the first time, to take on a round of investor money. Through that process, we’ve got a very strong board of directors and thought leaders who have been wonderful advisors and strategists and also mentors to me and other members of our team. One gentleman in particular, Joe Zaccagnino, was the former CEO of Yale New Haven Health. He brings a tremendous insight into the challenges going forward in hospital management and administration.

You said when you hired Craig Gavina as CTO that innovative consumer technologies have healthcare potential. What are some of them?

Certainly as we look at different forms by which information can be displayed. Form has to fit function. We don’t want to be too ahead of curve, but we want to be responsive to what’s out there. One thing we say here at Premise is NEHITO – nothing every happens in the office. We want to make sure we understand what is the most effective way to deliver information, through touch screen interfaces to PDAs to iPhones, as well as traditional vehicles.

The other thing that’s exciting to me as a biomedical engineer is the convergence of other medical devices and applications with patient flow. We have relationship with Stryker,where their next generation smart bed, or iBed as they’re calling it, can communicate bed parameters. For example, are the side rails up, are the brakes on, is the bed at a low height. That information can be critical to another hospital challenge, falls and fall risk and the ability to integrate that type of information into an application like our patient flow system. The same applies to scheduling and resource management. We have a history of form fitting function.

We do what’s right for the customer, and by having a lot of what I call Chuck Yeager accounts – hospitals that push the envelope of this company in a good way to make sure we’re thinking ahead but also grounding our thinking in what will work and what won’t. I know from my experience at Hartford Hospital that things that don’t work the first time often don’t get a second chance. Applications that are innovative and functional and, at the end of the day, will get used.

I love to read books and ideas from thought leaders. One of my favorite authors is Guy Kawasaki, who describes himself as Apple Computer’s evangineer, someone who wants to change the world and has the technical ability to do it. That’s what I see that at Premise. We’re excited to have this technical ability to influence how patients move through organization. We’ve had housekeepers come up to use with tears in their eyes and hugging us, thanking us for being able to show what a great job they do in helping that organization improve their patient flow.

Where does the company go next?

We see a tremendous challenge of continuing to focus and build on the base we have. The opportunity we have to extend into the ability to tie into other devices, staff scheduling, analytics – the market will see a lot more functionality on reporting and analytics. We will continue to be opportunistic as we see challenges and synergies that are presented. We don’t want to boil the ocean – we want to focus on what we do really well. We see the benefits and value of RFID technology.

At Singapore General, we’ll see the integration of advanced RFID technology into our patient flow platform. Technology that can not only show the location of a patient, of staff, or an asset, but also be able to measure physiological signals of those patients, like core body temperature. In Singapore, that can be a useful tool to for precursors or outbreaks of infection or disease states like SARS or avian flu.

Who do you admire in the industry?

I think people like Michael McNeal, who I know you interviewed a while ago. What he’s doing with Emergin is really exciting, how he’s looking holistically across multiple vendors and providing that glue, middleware that can tie information and devices together to enable companies like Premise to add value quicker. Outside the industry, I really admire Steve Jobs and the elegance of what Apple has done and continues to do. I’m one of the heretics here at Premise that carries the iPhone and MacBook running Windows applications. I hold that as the standard to try for in terms of elegance, ease of use, and functionality.

Also, Bill and Melinda Gates and the incredible work their foundation is doing for global health with access to vaccines and drugs and research to develop health solutions that are affordable and practical. I’ve been an Apple evangelist since college, but I’ve always admired Bill’s ability to scale his vision and organization through the vehicle of Microsoft and especially the standards and rigor of the Gates Foundation. It has always been my goal to create social value through my profession and now through Premise. I’ve been in the healthcare profession my entire career because I can think of no better industry to devote one’s time and energy to. Their leadership by example has been a tremendous catalyst for others to contribute, like Warren Buffett, to such an important initiative — global health and the challenging inequities in the world.

Any other thoughts?

The patient flow is a strategy and looking at logistics and analytics is a platform to look at the core processes of delivery. That’s what we’re really focused on doing.

Our success to date has been a combination of our company’s humility. We don’t think we know it all, but we have have great advisors and customers to guide us through a dynamic market. I think it’s due to our passion, a desire to innovate, and our commitment to realizing that vision that has made this place, while at times challenging given the growth we’ve experienced, rewarding. Everybody who works here wakes up every morning excited about what we’re contributing to healthcare. It’s not for everyone, I wouldn’t want anything else. I’m really proud of this team. I don’t want to sound like an infomercial, but I really mean that. It’s a great experience we’re building on and I really appreciate the opportunity to talk with you and I appreciate all the great work you’re doing with your website.

A doctor I worked once with made a great analogy. Why do people buy drills? What they’re really buying is holes. I love that analogy. What is it you really do? What we really do is provide workflow automation, but what we really provide are analytics and real-time information. That’s what people need. We are never going to be a replacement, nor do we want to be, for the big HIT vendors. What we want to be is a decision support tool and real-time dashboard that can work in concert with ancillary systems to make the best, accurate, timely decisions so that the patient gets to the right place at the right time. That ties into patient safety and a whole host of other benefits.