Nancy Ham is CEO of WebPT of Phoenix, AZ.
Tell me about yourself and the company.
I’ve been in healthcare for 25 years now, which is hard to believe. I’ve been fortunate to work my way across the continuum of care, starting with primary care, then specialist, hospital, and now post-acute, with some forays into payer, pharma, and lab along the way. I’ve been fortunate to work in a lot of different kinds of companies, from a startup that became a billion-dollar IPO to VC-backed companies that became part of bigger companies to being in a Fortune 50 division. I’m currently at WebPT, which is the leading EMR for the $30 billion rehab industry.
What are the similarities and differences between software used in an outpatient therapy setting versus that used by hospitals and physician practices?
It’s all about fit for purpose, especially EHR. As the name implies, it is purpose-built for its user base, which in our case is physical therapists, occupational therapists, and speech-language pathologists. You can imagine how different the diagnostics and clinical workflows might be from dermatology to cardiology to physical therapy. That’s why you’re seeing a lot of growth and activity in vertically specialized EHRs, like WebPT, Modernizing Medicine, and others.
Are outpatient therapy clinicians happier with their specialty-specific EHR than EHRs in general?
We were founded by a physical therapist, Dr. Heidi Jannenga. We often hear from our customers that it’s obvious that the product was written by a physical therapist. It supports their clinical workflow and thinks the way they think. We work very hard on that because we want to be as unobtrusive into the patient conversation as possible and be as compliant and efficient as possible to let therapists spend as much time as with their patients and as little time as possible with documentation. That’s a hard task, and something we constantly come back to. How can we improve? How can we make it better? How can we incorporate new, emerging technologies, like voice?
I also think it’s worth noting that there’s a lot of dissatisfaction with EMRs, both general and specialty. In fact, the last survey I saw showed that only one of the eight major general EHRs had a positive Net Promoter Score. We’re very proud to have a strongly positive NPS at 32, which I think is a reflection not only on the software, but on all the other pieces we bring that help our customers achieve their goal and our mission, which is to help therapists achieve greatness in practice. That means clinical greatness, financial greatness, and patient satisfaction greatness and then wrapping all that with stellar service and education.
We often focus a little bit on the product when having this dialogue as an industry. But to me, it’s about the entire ecosystem that you provide to your clients — we call them members — to support them in every aspect of what they’re trying to do.
Is the trend of consolidation at every level of healthcare, from providers to insurers, affecting your customer base?
Very much so. There are about 36,000 to 40,000 outpatient rehab clinics and we’re very privileged to serve 12,000 of them, so about a third of the industry. But as we’ve seen in virtually every other healthcare vertical, bigger companies are now being created. We have customers ranging from a single clinic to our largest customer’s 1,600 clinics. That’s an exciting change for the industry, because as we create more clinic operators of scale, it opens up a broader opportunity to participate in value-based care, for example. You now have some geographic density that matters to an IDN or a payer and you can participate in bundles or an ACO or whatever value-based care arrangement might happen.
We also see larger operators become able to invest more in data-driven clinical outcomes, which is a topic we’re particularly passionate about as a company. They are able to participate more vibrantly in that care continuum. I don’t know if you’ve been to PT, but I myself am PT patient. I spend a lot more time in that clinic than I do in my doctor’s office. We also think there’s an interesting opportunity for physical therapy to have a louder voice in primary care because of the hands-on time they’re spending with their patients. That’s something we want to support.
The opportunity here is that every year, 128 million adult Americans have a musculoskeletal condition that lasts more than three months that would benefit from physical therapy. Only 8 percent of them make it to physical therapy, so the other 92 percent are getting opioids or pain meds. They’re getting imaging, surgery, or perhaps nothing at all and they’re just sitting at home in pain.
As the industry is consolidating and expanding, it affords us a better opportunity to bring more patients to PT and make that 8 percent 10 percent or 15 percent. There’s a growing body of clinical evidence that PT is the best clinical pathway for a number of conditions in terms of cost and quality and in terms of the patient not just getting better, but getting well.
I’ve read that a big problem in physical therapy is that patients don’t complete their treatments, either because of cost or because they feel better. What have you learned about how your provider customers engage with their patients?
I’ll admit that I was initially a PT dropout myself. I quit going after my third visit because I felt better. But I was not well. I’ve since returned, completed my course, and returned to my best health. That’s a common issue. Patients are busy, and if they’re paying out of pocket, it’s expensive, so they tend to quit as soon as they’re seeing some progress.
That’s where we can use technology to help patients understand what their best outcome is. We have a data-driven clinical outcomes product. We can predict how much recovery of function you will gain based on the number of visits. If we can illuminate that to patients — to show them that if they would complete their course of care, their range of motion, for example, might improve another 30 percent — that would be motivational.
We acquired a company last year that allowed us to launch a new digital mobile platform to help patients communicate securely with their clinician to continue their therapy between visits from home exercise programs, or HEPs. HEPs are an important part of the PT story. Also to share their honest feedback on a Net Promoter Score basis.
Patients drop out because they have a bad experience. It could have been parking, the front desk, understanding their bill, or the clinical care. By helping illuminate that in real time to our practices, we’re giving them a real-time chance to intervene with that patient and have that conversation. We’re seeing good data that this combination of tools increases the stickiness of patients with their prescribed therapy. We’re excited about that as a trend for both patients and our clinics.
Is there any movement toward PTs using technology to help patients do their exercises effectively at home, like a video PT visit?
Yes. One of our new products is a robust, video-based mobile platform for patients to understand what they should be doing. To see it, repeat it, and communicate with a therapist how that’s going.
There’s a lot of invention happening in the next wave of virtual rehab, whether it’s using an avatar or using a 3D camera to literally measure your performance. We’re in the early stage of those technologies and maybe a little early stage on the business models to support them, because telemedicine at large has not yet penetrated into the rehab market the way it has in other verticals. There’s a lot of opportunity there for both patients and for sponsors, like employers who want to offer more convenient, more affordable ways for patients to recover from a work injury, perhaps. It’s an area we’re watching very closely.
What are your biggest takeaways from the HIMSS conference?
It was my 25th year attending. I learn less from HIMSS than I used to. It’s more an opportunity to see customers and partners and network with thought leaders in the industry.
I was struck by the amount of virtual assistant technology being shown. This introduction of voice to make technology easier for clinicians to use while they’re in direct patient engagement is encouraging. While perhaps machine learning, artificial intelligence, and big data are being over-hyped, we’re starting to see some real, practical uses of that data. That’s something we’re doing in continually improving our outcomes product — getting more predictive about what’s your best course of care and what is your likely outcome. Blockchain — not Bitcoin, but blockchain — is something that’s very interesting and I’m starting to become more optimistic that we’ll see some real adoption of it in healthcare.
What would you recommend to women who want to move into health IT leadership roles?
I would suggest they watch the amazing HIStalk webinar that Liz Johnson and I did on secrets to success for women in HIT. Thanks to HIStalk for affording us that opportunity.
Things are getting better, but it is incumbent upon women to actively study and learn what they can do to be more effective in their roles, to be more effective in leadership, and to be more effective in managing their careers.
My best advice to everyone is to make networking a part of your everyday life. Healthcare is such a collegial industry. I’ve virtually never been rebuffed when I’ve reached out to someone to say, “I’m interested in learning from you. I’m interested in your career path.” In those connections, you both learn and are inspired by someone else’s story. You make a new friend and maybe come away with a good idea for your project, your company, or your career.
Do you have any final thoughts?
In my 25 years, I’ve been a passionate advocate for interoperability. I started out in the mid-1990s trying to build CHINs — community health information networks — and most recently led Medicity, the large HIE company in our industry, processing billions and billions of real-time clinical transactions a year.
I would like to call upon my fellow EHR and EMR CEOs to continue to open up our platforms to innovators, to data exchange, and to supporting the patient’s journey. It is the patient’s data. We are honored to be entrusted with that data. Our job is not to lock it up, but to digitize it in an appropriate way that helps the patient achieve their best outcome while achieving the Triple Aim. I would love to see my fellow CEOs step up and do more in this regard.
One thing we’ve done here at WebPT since I joined is to create a vibrant partner ecosystem. We are supporting our customers as they find and implement all sorts of innovative, interesting other technologies that help them run their practices and serve their patients.