Over the past decade, Healthcare Informatics has recognized healthcare leadership teams who have gone above and beyond in their use of information technology solutions with the Innovator Awards. But those innovators could not have achieved such success without dedicated vendor partners. To that end, Healthcare Informatics announces the winners of the second annual Leading Edge Awards, honoring vendors whose combination of expertise and innovation are shaping the future of healthcare systems. The 2016 winner in the category of Interoperability is Medfusion, a Cary, N.C.-based company that focuses on facilitating patient engagement. Kim Labow, Chief Executive Officer of Medfusion, spoke with Healthcare Informatics about the patient as the lynchpin of true interoperability as the healthcare industry moves forward.
Healthcare Informatics: Tell me about Medfusion’s vision for interoperability in healthcare.
Kim Labow: Medfusion has been around for quite some time. We were the healthcare division of Intuit and now we are our own healthcare company. And one of the biggest problems in healthcare, both when we started and today, is interoperability. Ten years ago, there was this idea that true interoperability is a myth. It was just going to be too hard to do. But the reality is that healthcare IT partnerships have caused this problem. There are just too many systems that need to talk to one another if you are thinking about it from a system-based approach.
But there is a different approach to the interoperability problem. You can look at the connection point between all of these different systems. And that connection is the patient. And in all the years that companies have tried to solve the interoperability problem, to answer the question, “How can we get this thing to talk to that one?” we never looked at it from the patient’s perspective. So what Medfusion does is not look at “How can we get this system to talk to another?” but “How can the patient facilitate getting information from multiple systems with that patient at the center of it?”
Healthcare Informatics: How do you see the competitive marketplace moving in this interoperability area?
Kim Labow: From a competitive landscape, we still see a lot of vendors trying to solve the interoperability problem from a provider-centric point of view or enterprise-centric point of view. They are going after the same old solutions but trying to expand their reach. There’s a lot of frustration around trying to keep all these different systems networked and to keep the information flowing between them. There comes a point where, economically, it doesn’t make sense to keep trying for total interoperability. It really is kind of a myth if you try to leave it all on the provider’s or the enterprise’s shoulders. That’s why we took the patient-centric view. Because when we bring the patient into the equation, we can look at the real needs and they can be the connection that solves the interoperability equation. When you involve the patient, and make it a little more collaborative, you can find a way to connect the providers, the patients, and the enterprise, so you can get at the information everyone needs.
Healthcare Informatics: Many vendors claim to offer “patient-centric” solutions. How are your offerings different?
Kim Labow: Our approach really is a new approach. You’re right: a lot of companies say they are patient-centric. But most of those technologies really are focused on providing solutions that benefit the practice or the health system. They are focused on those problems. What would be more efficient and effective for physicians? For healthcare organizations in general?
Our approach is more of a bridging approach. If we can provide solutions and workflows to make the patient’s experience—the entire realm of that experience with the provider or health system—easier, faster, more convenient, then the deliverer of care is going to reap all of the benefits. Patients will stick with you, tell their friends about you, pay their bills on time, and stay within the network.
Rather than focusing on practice, we ask, “How can we help you make sure your patients are satisfied?” By improving their care and experience with your system, your office, and your physicians, the deliverers are going to see the true benefit.
Healthcare Informatics: To what do you attribute Medfusion’s success?
Kim Labow: This is my second time back at Medfusion. In previous years, I ran marketing and health management. But I wanted to come back and work with Medfusion again because I was so excited by the new advancements in patient payments, patient financial responsibilities, and aggregated health records. Medfusion has always focused on providing solutions that are easy to use—both for patients and for practices. We have also had a big focus on implementation and support. So, historically, Medfusion has always been a company that is a little bit ahead of the curve on understanding what patients need and what’s coming down on the market.
I would say a big part of our success has been being able to satisfy our existing clients, and being very centered on them and their needs. But we’ve also always had an eyeball on the future. But you really need a mix of those two things. You can’t just be an innovator and go after the next really cool thing. You also have to be really customer-centric and make sure you are providing a good experience for the client. That’s the way to get ahead.
Healthcare Informatics: How do you see the future—both in terms of challenges and opportunities—in the interoperability space?
Kim Labow: Healthcare, in a sense, is an industry of opposites. It’s always in a state of turmoil but it moves so slowly that it seems to take forever to get anything done. There are always 50 different things happening. You’re always waiting for the next set of rules or guidelines. So there is always turmoil. But it also moves at a snail’s pace. So many of the opportunities and challenges fall into this realm because healthcare has been relatively slow to adopt technology. As an industry, vendors have often had to rely on regulations—with some kind of carrot or stick to push healthcare organizations to make investments.
As health systems gobble up individual practices, the instance of a stand-alone practice is going by the wayside. And that brings both challenge and opportunity. There may be fewer organizations but they are always going to be part of another organization. And when they come together, there is going to be a need for some sort of interoperability so they can work together and have data successfully move from one place to another and fold into different systems.
Healthcare is an industry of contrast—which is part of what makes it so interesting. And where we are going—with fee structures, financial responsible, getting patients more involved in the business of healthcare, and so on—means that interoperability is going to be even more important. The right technologies—and new approaches to delivering those technologies—are the keys to making that happen.