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HIStalk Interviews Steve McDonald, President, Interbit Data

April 20, 2022 Interviews No Comments

Steve McDonald, MBA is president of Interbit Data of Natick, MA.


Tell me about yourself and the company.

I’ve enjoyed a rewarding 30-year career in healthcare IT, where I’ve worked with some of the largest EMR vendors and some of the greatest minds, such as Neil Pappalardo and Neal Patterson. I also worked with two leading consulting companies.

A lot of your followers have seen significant progress made in the industry. I’m encouraged by the advancements in digital health and move to the cloud. Even AI is showing some promise. CMS is putting teeth around their policies with bundled payments and value-based care and it looks like commercial payers are following suit. I was naturally attracted to the opportunity to join Interbit because we help hospitals that are dealing with some of those challenges

What are the benefits of having a report delivery system that is driven by rules?

We’re a subscription-based service, we’ve been around 25 years, and we have about 500 clients. We simplify communications by being able to send information out to a variety of people on the care team with value-based care contracts. We’re able to send information based on their preference. If a doctor wants to receive abnormal results via text message, we can send it that way. We can send by Direct message. This is all of the care teams. If a skilled nursing facility wants to receive emails or secure texts via an API, we could send things out via FHIR. The value is broad distribution of information to the care team in whatever format that they want to receive it in.

That’s one of our solutions, but the bulk of our value that we drive is on the care continuity side, in being able to provide information at the point of care for situations where the EMR is not available. Things like your EMAR, labs, radiology, pharmacy, and census open orders. If the EMR is not available, we have a snapshot of that information that can be readily available for care teams to access that information to provide care continuity.

Patient engagement uses the word “omnichannel” in giving people information in whatever form they prefer. When you look at the big picture of interoperability, what is the role of those different channels, where people may have legitimate reasons to prefer information sent by fax or PDF?

Healthcare is individual preference, and one size does not fit all. To the extent that a person or a provider wants to receive their faxes or a secure text message — let’s say for abnormal results, which is a great example — we can send it that way. It’s critical that we’re able to accommodate the wishes of our providers. Care teams are expanding with value-based care and bundled payments. You have physical therapists and skilled nursing facilities. They all want to receive it in different formats.

We allow the hospitals to send it to us and then we’ll take care of the distribution. Obviously if we need to put in HL7 or FHIR, we can send it to CommonWell and Carequality to push it out that way. But what we specialize in is operational communications, where we can pull it out of the EMR and then push it out in whatever format that the care teams want it.

How should a downtime solution work to support the continued provision of safe care while mission-critical applications are offline?

That is our sweet spot. If you have a scheduled or unscheduled downtime, you have the luxury of pre-planning for it and identifying the kinds of reports that should be made available. Your med administration record, labs, NPI, nursing, open orders, forms, even your employee contact list should be available house-wide in your hospital.

We have two varieties. One is a server that, during a planned or unplanned downtime, can still be on your network. We would be able to parse the EMR data and send the EMARs up to 2 West and to the pharmacy to allow for documentation, in the case of the EMR not being down. If it’s a full-blown cyberattack, we have an air gap server off your trusted network that contains that same type of information, but it is secure behind a firewall. It would only be accessed in a break-the-glass situation to allow for care continuity even in a case of a cyberattack.

Do hospitals anticipate these needs, or are prospects people who have had an incident that needs to be prevented in the future?

Cyberattacks doubled last year despite all the great efforts in trying to prevent them. The bad guys still get in. Hospitals request a way to have that critical information available even during an attack. We developed that solution about a year ago, to allow for access to that critical information so that they can at least have some level of care continuity. Ours is not a full-blown disaster backup plan,but is a safety net until the systems get restored. Nurses have visibility into a patient’s latest lab tests, for example.

Do hospitals recognize the clinical problems that are caused by that downtime gap even when it is shortened by good technology planning?

Most hospitals go to a paper-based backup in case of a full-blown cyberattack. That’s manual, and affects patient safety. We also see a lot of lost charges occur in that scenario. We are automating that solution to minimize the amount of effort when you reconcile back and your system’s up and running, to sync up all of that information that occurred during the downtime period.

What factors will be important in the company’s future?

The biggest factor we have is the ability to focus in on the human element of delivering care. People get caught up in all these technologies. Our focus is on simplifying operational communication, pushing that information out to the caregivers in the format that they can digest. Because at the end of the day, this is about the sanctity of the relationship between the doctors and the providers and the patient, that human element. We want to continue to deliver information in a format that they can use to deliver care.

A lot of people will say, “Healthcare IT will solve this.” Healthcare IT is great, but it’s not a substitute for that human intervention. Our operational communications approach is still at the ground level of delivering care. We also support the mobile user. We can push information out so that people who aren’t tethered to the internet have information available to make intelligent decisions in the care delivery process. Then once they are back online, we can help sync up to the major EMR system that they are using. 

I’m excited about the industry. I have a deep passion for it. It has been my entire life’s mission to try to improve healthcare by leveraging technologies, and I’m excited that the industry is getting an incredible amount of external capital as Wall Street is taking notice. We are a privately held, cash flow positive company and we don’t necessarily need any of that outside capital, but it’s great that the industry is progressing to help bend the cost curve and deliver higher quality care.

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