By Ann Meyer
— Leave it to entrepreneurs to create solutions to problem areas the government has stepped in to regulate.
For Ben Albert, co-founder and chief executive at Evanston-based Care Team Connect, professional expertise in health systems coupled with personal experience helping to coordinate medical care for his grandfather from a distance spawned a new a business concept that has been furthered by health care reform. Care Team Connect uses technology to pull together data identifying patients at risk of hospital re-admission and coordinate their care. With Medicare, Medicaid and insurance companies scrutinizing re-admission rates, health care facilities have a financial reason to purchase Care Team Connect’s new technology platform.
Meantime, in Mount Laurel, N.J., a hacking attack on WebiMax’s customer list spurred the online marketing firm to launch a new focus on computer security a few years ago. Since then, the National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace that the White House announced in April has called attention to the need for increased Internet security, but WebiMax chief executive Ken Wisnefski doubts the plan’s master-key approach to online identity will solve the problem. Instead, he advocates for multilayer security systems so that if one alarm fails to work, another will kick in. His firm also has built security systems to protect the transfer of medical records.
Meeting a need
Both entrepreneurs acted on personal experiences that pointed to unmet needs in the marketplace, which the government also identified as problem areas. In the case of identity theft, more than 9.5 million personal records were affected by 130 breaches in the first six months of this year, according to the Identity Theft Resource Center. And research indicates three-quarters of hospital re-admissions might be preventable.
Yet, when the government issues a new rule, it doesn’t always fully consider the ramifications of how it will be implemented, Wisnefski says. “It spawns this niche market out there of companies looking to create the new process,” he says.
Generally, any new processes require careful consideration from those with industry experience. Without it, unforeseen problems are bound to crop up, says Wisnefski, who suggested more fraud could occur if a single-key online identity program were to be hacked.
In their haste to get new products and services to market, corporations also rush into new areas without spotting all the loopholes. “A lot of times things aren’t always thought through in full detail,” Wisnefski says. “You end up finding yourself in a scenario that people didn’t take into consideration.”
But entrepreneurs with a knack for innovation see the gaps as new opportunities. In the health care arena, Care Team Connect aims to solve a problem that Albert and his father experienced while trying to arrange care for Albert’s grandfather, who was in Florida and had suffered multiple strokes. “We didn’t know who was doing what when to support his care,” Albert says.
Albert, who previously handled post-sale operations for health-care information systems provider PatientKeeper, conceived a turnkey technology solution designed to prevent hospital re-admissions by risk-assessing patients based on their medical conditions, the medications they take and their demographic characteristics.
The technology platform compiles data from other systems along with information entered by current health care providers to help flag patients at high risk of re-admission. The idea is to ensure the hospital delivers the right care for the right patients at the right time, he said. The platform also makes it easy to create and publish a care plan for the patient that family can access along with medical personnel. “Everyone is literally on the same page,” he said.
Without a platform for coordinating care for individual patients, doctors and caregivers often have trouble identifying those people who are candidates for re-admission, Albert said. Care Team Connect worked with clinical advisers who helped the company define the product. One challenge was the amount of information that health care providers needed to process without a system for organizing it. “It was almost too much data,” Albert said. Doctors “need to be prompted as to what patients do they need to focus on when.”
The platform goes a step further by outlining a specific treatment protocol for each patient, identifying who needs to perform the care through a shared-task list, he said.
The company, which employs 14 workers, now serves several major hospital groups, including Nashville, Tenn.-based Vanguard Health Systems, which operates Weiss Memorial, MacNeal, West Suburban and Westlake hospitals in Illinois. Flush with $5 million in new investment funding, it plans to expand and add workers in all areas of operation, Albert said.
While preventable re-admissions has been an ongoing discussion in the medical industry, health reform legislation has made it a “Top 3” issue, Albert said. Previously, physicians and medical centers didn’t have a financial reason to reduce re-admissions. Prior to health-care reform, medical treatment was a fee-for-service world, where doctors and hospitals billed for care as it was incurred without regard to whether the patient that had recently been discharged for the same condition.
“We knew that care coordination was a big problem, but we certainly did get lucky with health care reform pointing the finger at it,” he said.