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HIStalk Interviews Peter Kuhn, CEO, Influence Health

December 15, 2014 Interviews No Comments

Peter Kuhn is CEO of Influence Health (formerly Medseek) of Birmingham, AL.


Tell me about yourself and the company.

I was employee number three. I’ve been with the company since 1996. I’ve had a variety of roles — sales and marketing, product management — and became the CEO in 2008.

At Medseek, our original business model was essentially building physician- and hospital-based websites. Then as the web became more and more interactive in the early 2000s through 2005, the websites moved from online brochures to far more transactional-based websites, where we were connecting to a lot of different back-end systems, credentialing systems, call center software, HR-related software for job postings, etc. 

As the web evolved to being more personalized and more transactional, our business evolved from building those kinds of websites, but also building more customer-facing websites. Some of our earlier clients started building enterprise patient portals in 2004, so we could allow people to look at their lab results, message their doctor, and do an e-consultation with a physician. We’ve evolved as the marketplace and the demand for this kind of technology has evolved.

Most recently, in the last 10 years we’ve made a significant investment, more on the clinical side, through a couple of acquisitions that we’ve made. The most recent one being a year ago, where we acquired a population health management platform from a company called Symphony, a corporation up in Wisconsin. 

The new name Influence Health reflects a different company that’s doing what we think are very different things in the marketplace, although a lot of people claim to be in the space of population health these days.


I wanted to ask you about the Symphony Care acquisition and also the relationship with Sage Technologies, where you added a population health management capability. How are those technologies integrated and how are customers using them?

Sage is a great partner of ours. They offer an outsourced or managed solution for population health management. They will supply actual care managers to assist health systems and actually manage populations of patients. 

They’re using the Navigate product that we acquired from Symphony Care to make those people more efficient. They use it for analytics to identify who in a population would be low-rising and high-risk patients. Then we have a very specific platform that allows a care manager to perform very specific tasks on a daily or weekly basis, depending on how much attention those patients need.

Sage is using it in that way, and out in the marketplace, we’re getting a lot of traction with accountable care organizations and larger IPAs. Our traditional base of hospital customers are already starting to show a lot of interest in population health analytics, but also in the actual care management capabilities associated with the platform.


How would you distinguish the overlap and the differences between population health management versus customer relation management?

They’re blending together quite rapidly. Our larger, more sophisticated customers are starting to see that they need a holistic view, not just of their highest-risk patients or their rising-risk patients that are potentially going to cost them the most amount of money. They need to be able to manage and have a view of the entire patient population, including those that are healthy. 

One of the products that we offer is Predict, consumer analytics — a lot of hospitals call it CRM — where we can tell the hospital marketer at the household level who’s in the household, what the household income is. We can tell them what kind of insurance they have. We also build a behavioral profile of that household and predict for the hospital marketer the likelihood of their household leveraging specific service lines at their facility. It’s used for preventative care. 

Hospitals today that are still in the fee-for-service world use that to drive service line revenue. More and more, as our clients move into population health, they want to combine the capability of understanding what’s going on in their marketplace with their existing patients, but also prospective patients who might be in their ACO, along with very specific tools like care management platforms that allow them to reach out to those patients in an automated way. Something that marketers do quite well, but a lot of people on the clinical operations side don’t have a lot of experience with.

We have a combination of both. We have a CRM platform. We have a population health platform. We’ve combined those platforms so that a hospital marketer or a clinician that might be in charge of the care management program can have a complete view of the entire population, whether that be the rising-risk patients, the lowest-risk patients, or the highest-risk patients, something we think is pretty unique.


What are hospitals learning as they start to move into that role of establishing and maintaining a customer relationship versus just completing an episode of care?

[Laughs] Boy, how much time do you have? I think hospitals are learning that this is difficult. Switching from a fee-for-service world where they are responsible for their patient regardless if they are in one of their facilities or not takes a lot of mindset changing. A lot of operational changes.

We’ve been in the enterprise patient portal business for close to a decade. Just the basic interactions where a patient can now email a physician. Whether it’s a basic question, whether it’s an online consultation, whether it’s scheduling an appointment, these have created significant upheavals as it relates to clinician workflow. There’s a lot of anxiety around clinicians, some of it warranted and some of it being proven not to be so warranted.

Population health takes that to another level. How do you manage these patients across all these different settings where you may or may not control the technology in their doctor’s office? The physician may or may not be employed by you. How do you put true standards of care across all of those settings? It’s not just obviously companies like Influence Health that are providing solutions there. There’s a lot of dependencies on source system vendors, a lot of dependencies on the quality of data that’s in those source systems. 

People are learning that data is critical. Movement of data is critical. The ability to coordinate various groups across multiple specialties is critical. The ability to have the right platform partner that can sit on top of a lot of different systems and be good at extracting data out of those systems is another important function.


We’ve moved beyond the era where putting up a billboard was considered hospital marketing. Do you think hospitals or health systems will ever get as good as Amazon or even a grocery store chain at segmenting and engaging their potential customers?

We’re seeing a lot of our larger health system customers starting to hire chief experience officers, chief strategy officers, chief marketing officers, and chief innovation officers who come from outside of healthcare. Those people are applying a lot of experience that comes out of retail, travel, banking, and other industries that have figured this out. 

Healthcare’s got a long way to go. Everybody says healthcare is different and in a lot of ways it is. However, in the end, you still have a prospect, a qualified prospect, and a paying customer. 

There are companies like us that believe that leveraging traditional marketing techniques, leveraging marketing automation, leveraging CRM, leveraging multi-channel marketing across multiple channels like social, web, mobile, etc. that as these customers get more involved in their own healthcare because so much information is now available, that the ability for a hospital marketer and clinical operations –because we believe those two areas are going to have to come together to truly manage a full population — that the tools exist and you can create a highly individualized and personalized experience for these consumers that have come to expect it because we’ve been taught by other industries to expect it.


Where do you see the EHR fitting in among the technologies that are needed for success in a model that’s changing?

The EHR is obviously a critical component. There’s so much data that’s being collected inside of those tools. It’s critical for clinicians from a workflow standpoint, from a billing standpoint, to have these systems in place.

We also think it’s critical that in any kind of accountable care setting where there are multiple providers banding together to take care of a population of patients, there’s going to need to be a layer that sits on top of multiple EHRs. Where there’s an accountable care organization that’s being formed across multiple physician practices, we always find that there are multiple systems where patient data resides. It’s not just the clinical systems. It might be four or five different EMRs where we want to get a single patient identifier, a CCDA, or a set of claims data to get a holistic view of that patient, but there’s also data that’s sitting in the call center that’s highly relevant.

There’s data sitting based on these people visiting various websites of their credit profile in your website, and registering for an educational event, and they’re enrolled in a care program, and they’re enrolled in the patient portal, and they might have seen multiple physicians across multiple specialties. You need this holistic view of the patient that we don’t think the EHRs are architected to do today. 

What we’ve tried to do as a company over the last 15 years is architect our system where we get this holistic view of the patient, including data that’s sitting in these EHRs, but also data that’s sitting in a variety of other systems that the EHRs may not think about. Including device data, for example, being collected at the home. With all these wearable devices and blood pressure cuffs and Bluetooth weight scales, there’s a comprehensive set of data that’s being collected in the home that we think is very, very important to build that holistic profile of the patient. 

We’re architecting our systems to collect all of it. The EHR to us is one important component, but not the full picture.


A lot of health systems have exhausted their IT budgets and their IT capabilities buying EHRs and then chasing Meaningful Use money. Now they’re being asked to invest in analytics and customer-facing technologies. Will they be able to do that?

In a lot of ways, I don’t think they have a choice. I agree with you that Meaningful Use has driven some interesting buying behavior –  often very, very tactical — that has very little benefit to the patient besides giving them basic access to their data. But again, as I look at the leaders in healthcare, some of the larger IDNs or even the large single-hospital systems that we have as customers, they often get well beyond Meaningful Use at this point in time.

The Meaningful Use dollars are important to them, but perhaps they’ve launched a patient portal or maybe they’re got multiple patient portals. We see a lot of these systems reaching out, asking for deeper analytics, deeper engagement tools for their low-rising and high-risk patients. They’re asking for marketing automation tools where they can touch these patients on an automated way, but also in a personalized way on a regular basis across multiple channels, whether that be web, print, or targeted emails. If they’re a member of the patient portal, can we send them a personalized message?

I think as part of an IT spend, these kind of tools are going to be a cost of doing business over the next five years. Hospitals are going to have to reallocate money towards these kinds of tools in order to remain competitive in the new world.


What is the current state of patient portals and how are systems and providers in general using them or boosting participation among their patients?

We’ve got several customers that have already attested for Stage 2. They’ve been able to get the adoption. Quite a few of our customers have been able to attest successfully. 

I put patient portals in three different categories today. There’s the category of, "Let’s get speed to market," so I see a lot of folks just flipping on their EMR portals. They might have six or seven, and in some cases I’ve heard of eight different portals where a patient might have to register multiple times across multiple portals depending on whether they just had an inpatient visit or what specialty of physician they are visiting and what EMR is in place. Those folks want speed to market. They’re not very concerned about the overall customer experience. They just want to get their Meaningful Use dollars and they’re doing the bare minimum to check that box.

Another category would be folks that recognize that they’ve got a best-of-breed environment with multiple systems in place and have chosen to go down probably a harder part of deploying an enterprise patient portal, which might give that patient, if they have three or four EMRs in place, one logon. Again, we have a category of customers, even there, that are doing the bare minimum. They don’t want to do too much because operationally, it’s difficult, so they’re doing the bare minimum to achieve their Meaningful Use dollars.

Then we have clients that really want to change the entire customer experience. They want to create an experience that allows them to be differentiated. They want to use patient engagement as a competitive weapon in the marketplace against other facilities in order to create patient loyalty. We see customers doing that quite successfully as well, doing things like online consultations, real-time scheduling, deploying mobile applications that engage the patient in the way they’ve come to expect from banking, retail, and travel.


Where do you take the company from here?

Step One has been to integrate these technologies together. In the next two years, the marketplace for enterprise patient portals and care management are going to blend together. Hospitals are starting to realize that having a patient portal and a care management platform that are separate, that don’t engage the patient or the care team — and the care team is not just the clinicians, it might be supporting family members that are helping the patient in the post acute care environment — these two things have to blend to truly engage the patient in a cost-effective way. We see that over the next couple of years.

Our focus has been taking the acquisition and integrating that acquisition with our existing enterprise patient portal, but also integrating it with our CRM and marketing automation platform so that we can provide hospitals with an automated and cost-effective way to reach out and touch these patients. Our focus right now is around continuing to integrate the platform, because as I said earlier, we believe hospital marketers and clinical operations are going to need to cooperate tightly in order to engage an entire population. They’re going to need a comprehensive platform that includes marketing automation, CRM, enterprise patient engagement tools, and care management. We have all those pieces in place. Our job now is to integrate them and deliver them to our clients.


Do you have any final thoughts?

I really enjoy reading the blog. It’s a great source of information. 

We’ve got some very interesting times ahead of us over the next five years. Influence Health is excited to be in the middle of a fast-moving but exciting space where we think we can make a big difference.

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