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HIStalk Interviews Michael O’Neil, CEO, GetWellNetwork

September 24, 2011 Interviews 2 Comments

Michael O’Neil, Jr. is founder and CEO of GetWellNetwork of Bethesda, MD.

9-23-2011 8-30-04 PM

Tell me about the company and about yourself.

GetWellNetwork is a company I started about 10 years ago after a personal cancer experience. We are really focused on one thing — helping hospitals engage their patients and families more effectively in their care. We truly believe that if we do that effectively, the outcomes will improve. This is a company focused on patient engagement. We’ve been doing it for a very long time.

Do you think patients want to be engaged or are they surprised that hospitals would treat them differently beyond just offering a TV in their room?

It really has been evolving pretty significantly over the time that we’ve been doing that. I think the tidal wave of information access for just general consumers — be it for a car you buy or a grocery store you shop in or the healthcare you receive — is so powerful now. To say it’s getting easy would be an overstatement, of course, but we are encouraged every day by how much patients are digging into the information that we provide and want to be involved in their care.

Most of the industry started as modest entertainment providers for antiquated hospital TV systems. How did you come up with the idea of taking the basic on-demand movies and Internet access product and turning it into a two-way communications and education medium?

We let the data dictate our direction. We did have that same core on-demand functionality early on in the company. We were watching the data come across. To be honest with you, the utilization was very low. Your question about do patients really want to be involved … early on, they really weren’t accessing the kind of information that we felt was important to them.

At that point, we were not integrated into the EMR and core systems. We didn’t proactively pull patients in — we let them come in themselves. We really began to change the game five years ago and created a workflow engine called Patient Pathways that lets us take triggers from existing systems and processes and invite the patient into the care process. It has changed radically the impact that we’re seeing.

From the hospital standpoint, the patient is a captive audience for education delivered directly to their rooms. Are hospitals finding that to be effective?

Yes, they are. All of the folks who read HIStalk and are part of this community are pretty bent on the fact that these hospital partners of ours are ferociously measuring whether or not any solution or process they try to implement is changing some of the measures of their care. For us, the measures that we look at are probably fairly natural ones. Does the patient’s perception of the care improve if they’re more involved? What do their HCAP scores look like? You know, pre and post-implementation of this kind of solution.

What do the quality metrics look like? The patients fall less because they’re more informed and involved and educated about the fact they’re at risk for fall. We are measuring data ferociously with our hospitals because they demand it and because we’re genuinely interested in whether or not this thing has efficacy. It’s been a really powerful last two or three years.

Are you seeing impact from healthcare hot topics like Meaningful Use, Accountable Care Organizations, and healthcare reform?

It has been such a powerful catalyst for our whole little industry segment. About a year and a half ago, KLAS picked up patient interactive as a segment, then Gartner picked it up. I would love for us to take credit for that, but we don’t.

We were yelling as loud as we could that patient engagement is a core strategy for performance improvement years ago. We found some incredible hospital provider leaders to take this thing on with a lot of risk. Over the last two years with all these things, Meaningful Use and value-based purchasing and accountable care, patient engagement has become front and center, something they have to do. It has been a great catalyst for us for sure.

Going back to the entertainment category, home TVs have turned into devices that handle everything from broadcast programming to video on-demand and Internet streaming. Is there a large penetration of systems like yours in hospitals, and for those hospitals that don’t have them, are patients disappointed at what’s available to them from their hospital bed for their five-day average stay compared to what they have at home?

Yes. What you just said is coming. The expectations of the consumer, the kind of technology and information access and empowerment in whatever they happen to be going through in a hospital course … there is increased demand to have the kind of access in any environment that consumers have at home or at work or at school. That is certainly is one thing that’s going on. Secondly, the technology to do the kind of things that we do. People expect it now. It’s certainly been a different ramp than it has been in the past.

Hospitals have finally started to take patient satisfaction more seriously. Are you seeing that drive your business?

They are. I applaud these hospital leaders. They’ve been pushing a rock up a very steep hill with wind blowing at their face for a long time. Transforming the patient experience that has been on people’s plates for a decade, but hasn’t always resulted in measured success.

Too often, this notion of patient-centered care was on a poster in a lobby, but there weren’t really solutions to hard wire the patient’s activation into the heart of the care process. That’s really what we’re after.

When we first started the company, the marketing folks at the hospital and the CEO would buy the solution and then throw it into the unit and hope that it would stick. Today, it’s completely different. It is the chief clinical officer, a CMO or a CNE alongside their technology counterpart the CIO, who are saying, “We’ve been charged to do performance improvement. We know patient engagement is an element of that. Let’s go find a solution to help do this in the organization.” It’s really changed 180 degrees for us.

Hospitals I’ve worked at looked at solutions like yours, but always decided they were a tactical “nice to have” that never bubbled to the top. Are hospitals finding that outcomes and the potential for process improvement make your product more strategic?

What you just said is exactly how we lived in this company for about four or five years. To see this kind of thing is to like it. It’s very visual. It’s very high-touch. It’s very patient friendly. We always joke in this company that we’ve never had a bad meeting. 

The fact is, we might have a great meeting and people like the stuff, but to your point, it would be number 12 on a list of 20 things to go invest time in and resources and money in. Too often, we would lose to no decision.

To your question directly, over the last 24-36 months, we are taking all the inbound requests for, “We have budgeted for a patient engagement solution. We look forward to having you come share the work you’re doing”  We lead every single time with, “You’re at 25, not three hospitals that are actually seeing a success. You won’t hear perfect, but you’ll hear that we’re moving the needle on these specific things we go attack.” That’s how we walk through it now.

The bad thing about your success is that you probably have more competitors than you had four or five years ago. What’s your message to tell prospects that your system is better than that of your competitors?

We are attracting competitors. We actually welcome that in one major respect. When we first started the company, we were competing with some of the traditional kinds of hospital TV companies. You asked the question earlier about that kind of functionality, and frankly, we really don’t care who the hospital buys their TVs from. It’s really not about that.

Today, more and more, we’re seeing competition from some of the large EMR companies who have seen this segment begin to grow and are coming at it as an appendage to the EHR and EMR. We’re more focused on how we compare and contrast ourselves with that approach. We feel pretty strongly that patient engagement is more important than just being an add-on to an EMR.

With the 10 years of data and experience and technology we have, we feel pretty confident walking into an environment and saying, “I know you’re going single source for lots of different solutions. When it comes to engaging your patients and families effectively in their care and working in partnership with your nurses, we think we’re doing the very best work in the world in that particular thing.”

Do you consider GetWellNetwork to be content provider or a technology provider?

We’re a technology provider. Most of our platform is based off this proprietary workflow engine. We have 273 live interfaces today across the country. We interface with bedside barcode systems and with RTLS systems and with EMRs and with the café cart in the lobby and the gift shops. We use all these other systems to trigger different events for that patient to engage and activate in. That’s really the technology that we have.

When it comes to content, we’re working with over 25 different content partners. We’ve aggregated tons of content, so that based on what we want the patient to engage in, we just need to make sure that we have the right content that we can put in front of them at the right time based on what the workflows are. It’s really more a technology company than it is a content company.

With the opportunities for education and hospital promotion and third-party ads, I would expect some natural interest in owning that content platform. Do you ever see that there would be a more exclusive partnership or an acquisition, either you acquiring or being acquired to actually control the content channel?

About three years, ago we spent a lot of time in R&D and decided to go attack a certain segment. We thought we could speed adoption by attacking a specific segment in a differentiated way. We did this in pediatrics.

One component of our four-component strategy was to exclusively partner with an organization to produce exclusive content for what we call GetWellTown. We partnered exclusively with KidsHealth, part of Nemours Foundation. They have subsequently produced a library of over 250 pediatric education titles for GetWellNetwork exclusively. It’s been a phenomenal partnership for them as well as for us.

I envision those kinds of things happening for us in different segments, to partner exclusively and/or acquire it if the right opportunity comes along.

GetWell@Home offers information via the Web, cable TV, and smart phones. There’s a lot of opportunity for non-hospital based chronic disease management. Do you think that’s a mechanism by which you’ll be able to get patients interested in managing their own health outside the hospital walls?

We do. I’ll tell you, it’s probably the most exciting thing going on here  on the development side right now.

We develop major new products in a task force model. Usually six or seven of our hospital partners are involved for about 18 months. Russ Branzell and the whole crew from Poudre Valley was heavily involved in our @Home task force. 

We recently launched with them at Medical Center of the Rockies and Poudre Valley Hospital. Our first patients haven been enrolled in GetWell@Home. They’ve done a powerful job in integrating the patient’s involvement, both from an acute standpoint at discharge and then following them home. Really inviting the patient to stay involved in the Poudre Valley Health System’s management of their care.

We never picture patients going to GetWellNetwork.com for their care. We are providing a platforms for those providers who have a trusting relationship to help patients navigate and keep them engaged throughout their journey. It’s been an incredible start this summer. We think this is going to be the most important thing the company’s done in the last five years.

In broadcast or cable TV, it costs a lot to run a specialized channel, but with satellite dishes, it costs very little. Do you see a point where the cost for a “channel” would be so low that you could add a channel specific to a diagnosis or a treatment, so that a diabetic patient could see The Diabetic Channel on GetWell@Home?

We’ve been thinking even more about that. We think not just about a specific channel on a certain diagnosis, but a specific channel for a specific patient.

We’re working a project right now. I can’t give you all the information, but you’ll be the first to know on HIStalk when you actually can announce it. We’re looking at not only using the Web, but also using cable TV delivery to be able to dynamically create personal video-on-demand TV channels for a patient to be able to track their health and to be involved. It will come in their living rooms even when they’re not on a computer.

We think the opportunity is so powerful to attack one of the biggest issues everyone knows, which is that transitions are just not handled very effectively for the patient or family. It’s no one’s fault. It’s just complicated, and we’re not doing a great job at that. We think we have an opportunity to engage people in a very unique way.

Do you think you’ll ever see the point where physicians can leave personal video messages for a patient or use your backbone as telemedicine virtual session platform?

The technology is available today to do that. The way it’s been started early on has been almost from the satisfaction standpoint right now, whereby we can make it very easy for a physician to have one more touch, if you will, with their patients or families. From a perception standpoint, the coordination of care is so, so powerful.

We definitely will move towards doing some more telehealth stuff down the line. We found right now that physicians, for the most part, aren’t yet ready to take that on. Technology won’t be the hurdle there. It really will be organizational readiness. I think it’s coming.

Where do you see the company’s future?

In two major directions. We spent the first eight years working inside the four walls of a hospital and inside the patient’s four- or five-day acute care stay. We see this as a true platform for patient engagement throughout their journey. We’re in the midst of building this platform that can really help providers in the accountable care model elevate the patient activation component of their strategy and really own the fact they can navigate people through them. 

In five years, we will be we will be working as much outside the walls of the building as we do inside.

The other thing that I think we’ll do pretty significantly is we have been asked about 12 or 15 times in the last year to consider doing some work internationally. We’ve held off on doing that just to make sure that we are fulfilling the promises that we’ve made here domestically. We seem to be getting a great handle around that now, so I think also in five years, we’ll be doing stuff around the globe, which we’re really excited about as well.

Any final thoughts?

What you guys do rocks. We read it all the time.  We can’t thank you for all the time and energy you spend doing what you do.

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Currently there are "2 comments" on this Article:

  1. What data is there that this improves outcomes and reduces repeat hospitalizations? Is it cost effective, or, is this just another hand in the back pocket of the patient?

  2. PCC has a long track record in practice management software, with a focus on pediatric practices. They have been getting into EHR systems recently. It’s one of the very small number of companies that focus on pediatrics. I used their PM software back in the early 90s and have kept in touch at pediatric meetings ever since. Pediatrics is not really the most profitable business sector for a software company, but we pediatricians hope we make up for it in pure fun!

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