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HIStalk Interviews Paul Brient, President and CEO, PatientKeeper

September 24, 2010 Interviews 4 Comments

Paul Brient is president and CEO of PatientKeeper of Newton, MA.

9-24-2010 6-31-33 PM 

Describe what PatientKeeper does.

PatientKeeper focuses very much around automating the day in the life of a physician. We started out about 11 years ago with the observation that physicians weren’t using technology, in hospitals in particular. Some physician practices invested more and more in automating their core workflows, but physicians were largely left out. The general response was to blame the physicians.

We’ve taken a bit of a different tack and said maybe if we blame the technology or looked at the technology differently, we could get physicians to voluntarily adopt technology. Eleven years ago, we weren’t sure that was going to work. Today, we’re pretty excited that we’ve got about 23,000 doctors that have voluntarily adopted our product.

When you look at the Meaningful Use requirements, do you think they put the proper on emphasis on physician utilization?

Certainly the brilliance in Meaningful Use is that it focuses on at least one of the two third-rail workflows in hospitals, that being CPOE. Without it, I know that our organization wouldn’t be spending as much time on CPOE as we are now. I’m certain that our clients would not be spending as much time on CPOE as they are now. That’s one of the last pieces of physician workflow — the other piece being physician documentation — that has really not been adopted in any meaningful way.

If the goal is to get physicians to fully automate their workflow, having focus on it is a good thing. I think, obviously, it’s a very difficult task to come up with the right way to structure those incentives and structure that motivation. I don’t envy anyone in Washington that had to go through that.

In your mind, was it good news or bad news when they throttled back the CPOE target percentage?

It’s certainly a very odd metric for the inpatient hospitals to focus on one medication — I think it’s now ‘per year’ is the interpretation — that needs to be entered electronically. It’s more of a, ‘Hey, this is important — let’s get started.” Here’s a hurdle which I think that it would be pretty unnatural to try to even achieve that particular hurdle because that’s a bit of awkward workflow for doctors. Again, I think it’s a very difficult thing for them to do. I think the key thing is it’s a stake in the ground that says CPOE is important.

Stage 2, hopefully, will be much more significant in terms of really requiring meaningful adoption of CPOE. I think that if that isn’t, then there may be some organizations that don’t really go full-bore. I mean the goal here is to get most of the doctors in a hospital using CPOE. It’s the ultimate goal. One hundred percent is unrealistic given most community hospitals, but 80% and 90% is pretty realistic. How you get there is a little baby step. Hopefully the next step is a bit bigger.

What would you advise hospitals to do now to be ready for the next stage or to accomplish more than just the minimum requirement now?

The timeframes are getting compressed and we spent a long time getting ready. I think it’s a year and a half from the ARRA legislation to the final ruling of Meaningful Use in an overall six-year timeframe, so we spent a lot of time starting. I think that if an organization said, “Hey, I’m just going to try to do the letter of the law here,” there are lots of crazy ways that people have conjectured that an organization could get to the letter of the law in Phase 1.

I think they’re missing the gift of this. The gift is, “Hey, we’re going to give you some more time to get a proper rollout in place. We’re also going to give you some money, because if the first round is relatively easy to comply with, you get the money from that so you can invest in your ongoing rollout.”

I think if you just said, “We’re going to try to maliciously comply,” or “comply to the letter of the law” and don’t have your eye on the prize, you’re then going to get caught in the same squeeze everyone was complaining about when it was a hard hurdle early on.

So unless you’re intending just to say, “We’re going to do Stage 1 and not do Stage 2 and 3,” which I guess would be a strategy, I think that you really need to be focused on how are you going to get to real adoption of CPOE in the provider community, which is still not an easy task just because you have a little more time to get it done.

Will it be different for community-based hospitals whose physicians practice at their discretion versus hospitals that have employed physicians?

I think very much so. We think of the world as three kinds of facilities. As the academic facilities with a large resident population where CPOE has been most successful — where you have the most control, obviously. Then there’s the more employed model hospital in the community setting, although they overlap. And then there’s this, we’ll call it the “classic community hospital,” where you’ve got physicians that are non-employed and in many cases practice at multiple institutions that are your competitors.

That’s obviously the most difficult environment in which to implement these advanced kinds of workflows and get physician adoption. It’s also the environment where we spend a lot of our time because physician adoption of IT has been particularly problematic in those areas. That’s not all of our customer base, but it’s certainly where we can solve some pretty big problems for our customers.

How are hospitals using technology to attract physician business?

It’s interesting. If you put yourself in the seat of a CEO of a community hospital and you’re not employing physicians, you’re trying to get physicians to refer to your facility. There aren’t very many levers that you can pull to make it more attractive for physicians. Most of the levers, really, are around making the physicians more productive and more efficient. Everything from, “Here’s some nice food or doctor’s lunch, they don’t have to go out and get food” to “Here’s some OR block time” and things like that.

We’re seeing a lot of organizations rely on technology and say, “Look, we can put technology in place. It’s going to save you time when you practice here and reduce hassle.” That’s a big win for doctors because essentially, what they do is they sell their time. So if you make them 10% more efficient by coming here versus going there, that translates pretty directly into more patients, more revenue, a more effective physician. We work with a lot of organizations that really have physicians-facing technology as part of their competitive differentiation in the marketplace.

People aren’t paying much attention to is the fact that the majority of community-based physicians practice in multiple facilities. Are there going to be concerns or push-back from doctors that they’re expected to learn more than one system for more than one hospital?

Very much so, and unfortunately, not just more than one from more than one hospital.

We’ve done some studies of community physicians. When you start adding up all the different systems they have to use, even in a hospital, and then you replicate that at two or maybe three hospitals, it’s just chaos. Early in the day when PDAs first started coming, a lot of them had PDAs just for their usernames and passwords. Of course now they’re on their iPhones and Android phones, but it’s a real problem.

If you think about something as critical as order entry, you have to learn two different user interfaces with potentially two different order sets. Since we talk a lot about evidence-based medicine — which is great, except that 70% or so of the orders in the order set aren’t evidence-driven — two hospitals in the community might have very different-looking order sets.

That’s a real challenge and something that I think people … I know our customers in those situations fully appreciate the challenge, but it didn’t really resonate as much, I think, in the Meaningful Use dollar.

You mentioned evidence-based order sets. It’s interesting that in most hospitals, all they’ve done is to take the market basket of every possible order already being used, dump it in an order set, and say, “OK, we’ve accomplished something.” How do you see that progressing to get to where it is more evidence-based and not just reflecting current practice?

It’s really interesting and very challenging. Especially if you start with a notion, which I think is pretty well-documented, that the majority of the orders in an order set aren’t evidence-driven. You end up with these crazy order sets, which is here are all the personal preference items for all the physicians in one order set, so it’s like nine pages long. Clearly that’s not useful really to anyone other than you can check a box and say, “Yes, I have an order set here.”

I think where things are going, and why people are trying to push this, is the core evidence around conditions are reasonably non-controversial, not necessarily practiced by everybody, but at least when you present it to someone, you don’t get a lot of push-back. There’s starting to be organizations like Zynx and Provation and others that have evidence-based order sets you can purchase and you can say, “Here’s the evidence piece.”

The trick is what to do about the rest of the orders. I think that’s where you can end up with the simplest, from a technology perspective. It’s, “Let’s go with doctors together and we’ll agree here, in this medical staff, on all the non-evidence-based orders and which ones we’re going to put in and make it more reasonable.”

Again, that works great in an academic setting where you’re trying to teach everyone to practice medicine, so it’s good. In a community setting, especially one with splitters and voluntary physician staff, it’s almost impossible to get the bandwidth to do that.

I think you’ll see organizations really want to try to say, how do we take evidence and then allow the physician convenience items to be managed separately from the evidence so that we still have a nice evidence-based, consistent practice of medicine here, but if I want the nurse to call me when a temperature is 102 or their hematocrit hasn’t gone up by more than 10% every hour or whatever the triggers I like to use. They’re different with another doctor. I don’t necessarily think that we try to homogenize that across all the surgeons in the community.

Is it reasonable to expect, given the status of the technology today and how people are likely to deploy it, that we’ll see an immediate improvement in healthcare delivery with an increased utilization of technology?

That is the $20 billion question. Clearly with Stage 1 Meaningful Use, we’re not going to see a significant impact on the cost or quality of healthcare delivery. The requirements aren’t such that that’s going to make a difference. It’s a process, and I think that the people that put together Meaningful Use really recognized that process.

I think that in order to really get a big impact, we have to change behavior, and that isn’t just a technology problem. You can put all the standard order sets in the world in front of physicians, but unless they do something different as a result and you’re able to change the way they practice or the way they interact with information or the way they operate with the care teams, then this isn’t going to make a difference at all. Except for perhaps to save some time with ward clerks and save some paper and things like that.

I believe that technology’s a really critical tool. With a fully electronic environment, you can see in real time what’s being ordered. You’ve got computer systems that can generate alerts and understand things. Used properly, it can make a huge difference, but it’s got to be used properly. I don’t think we’re going to see those impacts until the late stages of Meaningful Use, and probably thereafter.

I’m sure you’re familiar with the studies that show in some cases, increases in mortality as a result of putting in CPOE systems. Obviously, that’s using things improperly, but it is not a given and it’s not just a, “Check the box, it’s automated. Look, wow, it’s better!” It’s not like factory automation. It is really something that’s going to become part of the process, part of the culture, but you have to have it in place in order to do that.

If I were to read intent into the Meaningful Use approach, I really think that’s what’s going on here. I think that it’s an investment that will pay off, but it’s not immediate. My fear is that the world at large is looking for an immediate kind of increase and improvement. Just like, frankly, many other automation tasks in other industries, the improvements aren’t that immediate, but they’re there.

Do you think this is the carrot and there’s a stick yet to come?

I don’t know. Certainly, the stick is an important part of the legislation. The stick isn’t that big, frankly. You can take away the Medicare increases for organizations, but of course people remind us that Medicare’s been going down recently. I think it’s going to be difficult, politically, for the government to impose much of a stick. That’s just my conjecture.

I think the stick will come, probably more from peer pressure, if that’s the right term — competition of industries — but these hospitals are geographically separate. But I think if we can get 60-70% of the hospitals in the country to whatever Stage 3 Meaningful Use is, then it becomes a, “Look, you have to do this to keep the doors open.”

Hospitals have adopted all sorts of things. We don’t give them credit for basically going filmless in the imaging side. Most nursing workflow automation, pharmacy automation, lab automation — all these things have happened. Bar code meds administration — all these things have happened without Meaningful use, so I think there will still be pressures in the industry.

I think what this has done is brought these applications that probably would have been very low on the list of priorities to the forefront. I think if there can be a real effort to get most of these hospitals going, the rest will fall in line without a stick.

How big a game-changer is mobile access going to be?

We think it’s fundamentally important for so much of physician adoption. Not so much because it’s the only way, or even the primary way someone would put data in or look at data. But just like your e-mail and your BlackBerry are so fundamentally important to the way knowledge workers work today, without my BlackBerry, my e-mail’s a very different thing.

Likewise with physicians, when we give them desktop access and mobile access, it gives them the ability to work in ways that fit so well the way physicians work, especially these physicians that have multiple, different hospitals. Great, we’ve got lots of computers at our hospital. You go to the next hospital, in some cases they’re a huge pain to get at. Sometimes you can’t get into your other hospital system –  you’re not comfortable on the floor pulling up some of the hospital’s stuff. You get a call — you can’t get access to information in your car, so it really is a really important, critical part of the physician workflow.

If you go into the CPOE world in particular, you see a lot of adoption challenges with CPOE around the simple orders, the bedside order, where you walk in and the nurse says, “I want to give the patient a medication for nausea.” Today, that’s a simple thing. I’ll just note in the chart because I’ve got it here in my hand. It takes 5-10 seconds to write down the order. In the CPOE world, now I’ve got to go get a computer, I’ve got to get logged in, I’ve got to get the order in. Maybe that’s only a minute and a half, but I do that times 20 and now I’ve wasted a half hour of my day being annoyed.

Whereas on my iPhone or my Android, three taps and the person’s got the medicine. That’s even easier than the chart and I know that it’s checked so I don’t have to think about what meds they’re on already. So in cases of contraindication, it comes right away so I can be confident in that. I think it’s a game-changer in CPOE. I think it eliminates some of the real issues that we’ve heard from physicians, even in organizations that have been successful in the CPOE world.

Any final thoughts?

Well, it certainly is an exciting time to be in healthcare IT. I know you’ve been in this industry for quite a long time. I have been my entire career. Up until about two years ago, I showed up at a cocktail party and told people I was in healthcare IT and people kind of looked at me funny and we’d talk about something else. Now, everyone’s excited about it. They’re like, “Wow, this is going to really make an impact,” and I think that’s both a blessing and a curse.

I’m hopeful that, as an industry, we’re able to deliver the impact, the ultimate impact. Bending the cost-curve, improving quality, and frankly, helping make it less painful for patients and doctors. But ultimately, for patients to access the healthcare system. I think technology holds a lot of promise for that.

We didn’t talk a lot about HIE, but I think that’s another area of opportunity for the industry, where it could really become a really important game-changer around patient engagemen,t a reduction in patient frustration that I think can also save a lot of costs.

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Currently there are "4 comments" on this Article:

  1. Good point in regards to the efficiency hurdle for a single ad hoc order (in this case for a nausea medicine)-

    “In the CPOE world, now I’ve got to go get a computer, I’ve got to get logged in, I’ve got to get the order in. Maybe that’s only a minute and a half, but I do that times 20 and now I’ve wasted a half hour of my day being annoyed.

    Whereas on my iPhone or my Android, three taps and the person’s got the medicine.”

    Seriously? Does a smartfone/mobile device work around this inherent workflow hurdle? There may be other technological solutions (eg proximity, facial recognition, biometric SSO) but I am skeptical that a smartfone cuts it. Is sign on and order entry different/faster on a smartfone? and if so, then why not use that process on the desktop application?

    As a hospitalist I found the real solution to the ad hoc order inefficiency to be anticipation (after learning from experience). I made a favorites order set with all the usual prn orders (call for this or that, pain, temp, nausea, anxiety, sleep, etc). this covers the mundane ad hoc orders and what remains are ad hoc diagnostic and therapeutic decisions that actually require clinical thought and judgement, and in that case I do want to sign on and take advantage of the clinical decision support (at least in theory) inherent in the application.

  2. Paul,

    It is an insightful idea to select and organize the disease and patient critical results to make care provision more efficient. You are separating the wheat from the chaff, as they say, and sure enough, there are tons of chaff to go around on these commercially available devices. Will your system attach to all CPOEs and EMRs?

    I was on your website and you have a brilliant advisory board http://www.patientkeeper.com/company/medical_advisory_board.html
    consisting of doctors Shortliffe, Shah, Pryor, Johnson, Huang, and Bonventre, all giants in this field. How often do you guys meet and are you using the ideas of this brilliant group?

  3. Observations as this one are spot on: “We’ve taken a bit of a different tack and said maybe if we blame the technology or looked at the technology differently, we could get physicians to voluntarily adopt technology.” The technology should be blamed. Most of it is luddite technology.

    I hope that PatientKeeper works, ie that it is user friendly, improves efficiency, and reduces errors caused by the systems that doctors are currently forced to use.

    The number of errors from the currently available EHRs and CPOE would appear to be substantial, but no one is talking, and obviously, no one is counting.

    No one wants to know that the goose that laid the golden egg has salmonella.

    If you have a treatment for the CPOE time sapping disease, yours will be the most meaningfully useful equipment on the market.

  4. Look. Let me say a few things, and I am really going to try and save the relentless use of adjectives, well, as best as possilbl1.

    1. I’m trying to be nice here. Paul and his product and executive group may be “well educated”, but they are not exactly on your side.

    2. That interview said almost nothing. And herein lies my biggest beef with PatientKeeper –> There products are not for today’s market. They stuck with this mobile strategy, then tried to layer middleware solution for hospitals, and possess nothing of an HIE platform. Why you would want their solutions, considering today’s options, is beyond me.

    In sum. If anyone could give me a reason why I should take on one or a few of their solutions, I would really like to know. I don’t see it. And I think it would cost my organizations to “see it”. !!

    [From Mr. HIStalk] I removed a couple of comments that were a bit strong. Sorry to do that, but comments about people, corporate character, etc. make me uncomfortable when coming from someone unwilling to give their name and they aren’t really necessary to make the point anyway.

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