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HIStalk Interviews Steve Liu, Founder, Ingenious Med

April 18, 2012 Interviews No Comments

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

4-18-2012 5-11-53 PM

Give me some background about yourself and about the company.

I was an engineer first and earlier in life – electrical — and it’s just it wasn’t for me. I couldn’t see myself doing this for a long period of time. I decided at the last minute to do what I really wanted, which was become a physician.

When I got out, it was a really interesting time. In 1999, there was this new movement called hospitalist, which is what I became. I took a chance and jumped in to that. 

At the same time, I started building tools that I needed for myself to manage the hospitalist group — capture data, improve quality, and improve the practice’s performance. It was nice because that ultimately resulted in me building the company. There was an opportunity. I built some tools that were really helpful for myself and it turns out there was a market — a lot of other folks were having the same problems. That’s the inception of Ingenious Med.

At this point, we’re probably the largest inpatient revenue capture physician management solution out there, with about 14,000 users. We did the tally a couple of months ago. We did about 10 million individual encounters that we captured for the physicians and hospitals across the nation in 2011.

We’re a point-of-care solution. We’re in the physician’s hands every day on every patient. We’re able to engender correct actions in data capture and give feedback and align those physicians with the goals of their organizations, whatever those might be — cost, quality, revenue.


Describe the workflow of your users and how your application captures charges and documentation within that workflow.

Our bread and butter used to be hospitalists. They’re the minority of our users – it’s really inpatient physicians. The workflow is pretty similar across the board, whether you’re a cardiologist or a hospitalist or whatnot. 

Physicians round in the hospital. I measured it one day — I walk something like five to eight miles a day in a hospital when I’m rounding. They’re extremely mobile. As a result, it’s hard to always have access to a workstation. They see patients, but actual patient care time is only about 15 minutes. The rest of the time is spent thinking about patient, documenting information, and then capturing your revenue by making sure you document for compliance and quality and all those other things that your organization needs you to do.

We’re at the very front part of that revenue cycle process. There are only a few technology touch points with a physician where you can give them feedback and have them change behavior. Most of the time it’s through the EMR, but another opportunity is what we do, which is the mobile cloud space of revenue. When they finish doing everything they do with the patient, they need to capture the work that they performed. That’s what we do.

We do a whole bunch of stuff once they enter information for us. We give them a lot of feedback and education to hopefully enhance their behavior and performance. Then we take all that information and process it, give reports back to administration, to the physicians, score cards, etc. Then get it to the billing services or the back offices to be handled from their standpoint.

We’re highly adopted – we’re literally there at the point of care on every single patient of our users every day. It’s sort of an opportunity to do all this cool stuff.

Who are your competitors and what’s the alternative for physicians to improve if they aren’t using any system?

Back in ‘99, everyone was on paper. That was the best solution. Paper is probably one of the most ergonomic things out there. You can’t supplant it in many different areas, obviously, because we’re still 10 years out and we see practices still walking around with 3×5 cards and superbills. 

That’s the de novo basic situation. It has a lot benefits, but a lot of inefficiency. There’s been many studies and a lot of data on just how moving to electronic systems gets rid of all the inefficiencies of lost paper, illegible handwriting, and all that sort of stuff. 

There’s probably about two major competitors that focus on our space. They have wonderful products and we highly respect them, but it’s what you do with the charge capture. Everyone has charge capture, even 10 years ago. EMRs, HIS systems … people have it. But it’s such a critical part of a practice. If it’s not done correctly, your livelihood is very much at risk.

As a result, people started to migrate towards best-of-breed solutions rather than the de novo systems that were available, maybe even for free. That’s why people come to us.


It’s almost as though you’re the CPOE of physician financials. It’s easier for them to use paper, but you have to give them an incentive to go electronic.

I’ve never heard that spoken that way, but that actually is a really great way to describe what we do. That’s perfect. We’re the CPOE of financials and revenue for the physician — exactly. It’s not just capturing an E&M code and some diagnoses. It’s way more than that. That’s our core business, but there’s so much that goes on, so much that can be lost revenue-wise, and so much opportunity to do other things outside of just charge capture.

The whole industry is living towards managed care. Instead of charge capture, it’s work capture. With that information that you get right there at the point of care, you can do some really, really great stuff that impacts things that are non-financial or indirectly financial, like quality and core measures and all the things that are now becoming the new way to have a healthy revenue in your practice.


So your goal is not to be a documentation system, but to capture information that isn’t available in other systems as a by-product of capturing charges?

We think of ourselves as a complementary. One of our major missions in whatever we design in a roadmap is to always complement the EMR, not to go head to head with the big functionality that they do. 

One of the things we do is complement the documentation. We don’t really want to become the medical record. It’s really not our role. But existing systems may not do things as well as they could. You find that with all the requirements coming in healthcare in both financial as well as quality reform, the physician’s pen is the most powerful thing in the hospital. Everything comes out of that. As a result, you can shore up documentation. That’s how we think of our role in documentation — shoring it up.


Do you find it tough to fight for space on the portable devices or desktops, like what happened with the proliferation of devices and applications that demanded the attention of nurses a few years ago?

Not really. The reason why, I think, if something is pretty usable …  ergonomics and ease of use are absolutely paramount to have any sort of adaption. It’s like Hair Club for Men – I’m not only telling you to use the product, I’m a member. I use the product. That’s why I still practice. You have to be a clinician and use it in order to actually design really good stuff.

We have something that’s very embedded and keeps pace with the physicians from an electronic device – Web , PDA, or smart phones. It has to be usable, and then also useful. I think because we’ve got that combination, they do generate more revenue, capture more value, showcase more quality, or improve their care with our functionality. It doesn’t feel like a hindrance. It’s looked at more as a useful tool that you use every single time you see your patient.


How do lay out your turf beyond just charge capture?

Only 10-15% of our solution is charge capture these days. Over the past 10 years we’ve built that and we continue to build that up, but that’s a small part of what we do.

Our most powerful points — why people often choose our platform — is not necessarily for the revenue and the charge piece, but the other tools — the physician management functionality, the reporting and ability to scorecard your physician and let you know exactly what they’re doing to manage their performance and give them feedback and really engender change. That’s one of the most powerful things that has been very successful for us. I think it’s what we do very well, if not the best way in our particular market.
That’s an area for sure that we will continue to move down.

I think some of the other areas in terms of point of care, education and feedback … even a limited focus of decision support is probably another area that we would like to establish as huge experts in.


Most companies have figured out an angle to ride the wave of Meaningful use, accountable care organizations, analytics, or more than one of those. Are you finding that those are good springboards for your business or are they taking people’s attention away from what you’re offering?

Meaningful Use doesn’t impact us too much. It’s not a huge focus, simply because that’s what everyone else is focusing on. That doesn’t impact us as much. 

ACOs, however, do. If in a world of managed care and ACOs, you just change the word “charge capture” to “work capture.” You still have to measure the amount of productivity that physician actually does in order to see how contracts gets renegotiated, etc. ACO is an area that has been beneficial for us. We see that as an area of opportunity as we transform our offerings to fit the coming landscape.

The other areas that we see as being directly related through the functionality that we have are value-based purchasing and quality improvement and capturing all that data. PQRS is the physician component of VBP. That’s what we do. We were one of the nation’s first PQRS registries and we have 100% success with that. We would like to take our knowledge there and move it towards VBP.


You won a physician entrepreneur award in the fall and almost immediately brought some new folks into the company at the executive level. What’s the long-term strategy for the company?

You’ve probably heard this a million times .. an entrepreneur five years ago, eight years ago who said, “We’re at the hockey stick inflection point where we’re really about to grow.” You check in four years later they just haven’t done it for whatever reasons. I’ve been saying that for a long time. 

What happens is — especially with a growing company — if you’re smart, you reinvest and reinvest and reinvest in the company. That’s what we have been doing. We really have hit that inflection point. We’re on the other side. As a result, you have to go through big organizational change.

A couple of years ago, I put in a CEO to replace my role as CEO at the company, more for personal reasons, so I could start a family. That was one of the best decisions I ever made. We were able to really, really focus on strategy for the coming change. As a result, that was the first step in maturing the company — putting in the CFO and our CTO and really capable management. The new stage is large enterprise healthcare organizations — being able to support their needs. And not even just with those clients, but also to build the company out for what needs to be done 2-3 years out for the coming change.

Any final thoughts?

I’m humbled and thankful to be where we are right now in healthcare. It’s a pretty exciting time. It’s a time that forces folks to think about the future and innovate and grow. There’s a lot of opportunity. I think it’s a neat place to be. I’m pretty thankful about that. 

With everything that’s going on, it’s nice have sites like your own to have a touch point for what’s going on in the industry. Believe it or not, you really do educate myself and a lot of the healthcare folks out there about what’s going on in the industry and trends and all of that. 

I’m thankful just for having a role and being able to be successful in providing really, really neat, great functionality to the hospitals and providers out there that hopefully improves our lives. It’s part of our mission statement. It’s nice to be able to live on that.

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