Each year, to accompany our Healthcare Informatics 100 list of the largest companies in U.S. health information technology, we profile six fast-growing companies that could very well make The 100 in the future.
The growth trajectory of these startups suggests they could have a significant impact in health information technology. Most have drawn strong interest from venture capitalists. Others are coming at seemingly intractable problems in healthcare from completely new angles. The next such company on this year’s list is Chicago-based SA Ignite.
Editor’s note: All of the 2017 up-and-comer stories can be read, as they come out this week, right here.
Tom Lee, Ph.D. has built a solid company around creating software nicknamed the “TurboTax for Meaningful Use,” because it makes regulatory compliance easier for health systems. His Chicago-based SA Ignite shows no signs of slowing down as the industry moves into the age of MACRA and MIPS. The story of how SA Ignite grew to assisting thousands of providers involves a combination of hard work, good timing and know-how.
Lee had experience working for telecom startups in California, but when he was attending the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, two things shaped his career future as he was trying to decide how he would focus his entrepreneurial energies. One was that his young son developed a serious health issue that required hospitalization; the other was a student project in which he worked with a Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) in Chicago to help them understand why their electronic health record was not being used properly. After those two experiences, Lee decided he would focus his energies on healthcare solutions. He named the company with the first initials of his two children’s names because they “ignited” his effort.
Because of his experience at the FQHC in Chicago, he became a consultant to the Northwestern School of Medicine as it was named a Regional Extension Center (REC) to help 2,000 providers attest to Meaningful Use requirements. “We were a one-and-a-half-person company and got a significantly large contract to help the REC,” he says. He also got a chance to work with leaders at the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT.
Tom Lee, Ph.D.
“That is where I stumbled upon an opportunity,” Lee recalls. “I realized someone has to organize all these Meaningful Use measure data elements.” The EHR vendors had a lot of things on their plate just trying to get certified, much less figure out reporting problems. Health systems were trying to build their own spreadsheets and analytics because vendors were not going to be able to do it on time. “I looked at the situation, and created a little Excel-based tool and gave it out for free,” Lee says. “People said it was fantastic but started asking for more features. We went on to build what became known as Meaningful Use Assistant in the cloud, which was basically TurboTax for Meaningful Use — and that analogy still applies as we work on other value-based care programs.”
Lee’s team marketed the tool directly to medical groups. One early client was a large multispecialty group in Iowa. “They took a chance on us when the product was still in the design phase in the middle of 2010,” he says. “We transitioned out of consulting to RECs and became a software vendor,” he recalls. Early on, SA Ignite signed a deal with Intermountain Healthcare. “How often does a company the size of Intermountain sign a deal with a 7-person company? It was because we had the right product at the right time. Intermountain is still a client today,” he says.
Although it had one institutional investor, SA Ignite remained a tightly held company as it grew to 10,000 providers at 50 organizations. Its customers started asking for similar solutions for two other regulatory programs, the Physician Quality Reporting System (PQRS) and the Value-Based Modifier from Medicare Part B. So the company created solutions for those programs as well and grew to 14,000 providers.
Then in the spring of 2015 came the MACRA legislation. “Essentially with MIPS, they legislated right down our product roadmap,” Lee says. “They combined three programs we were already working on into something called the MIPS score. We started the month after the MACRA legislation was passed and well before there was any work done on the proposed rule. We have a large following and every month 1,000 people are on our MIPS webinar. Some organizations encounter our educational material, and they think this is a consulting firm, but really we are a cloud software company. They then realize we have a way to automate all this stuff and a track record in the things that comprise MIPS.”
The company has grown to 50 employees and is working on new features to offer its customers. “Because we have been doing value-based care management reporting for so long, we have predictive analytics capability to do things like predict what your MIPS score is going to be,” Lee explains. “People want to track that performance down to the individual clinician level, and understand where the low-hanging fruit is—and which measures they should put their effort in to maximize their scores.”
Lee says the company’s laser focus on regulatory optimization sets it apart from other types of consultants and software companies. “This is all we do. Our customers know that if SA Ignite does not get MIPS right, there is no SA Ignite.”