PatientKeeper’s iPad App Lets Docs Juggle Tasks, Furthers Firm’s Mobile Ambitions

5/25/10

PatientKeeper has worked fast to make its physician software available on whichever smartphones or mobile devices doctors like to use. So it makes sense for the Newton, MA-based firm to expand its menu of mobile applications this month to the iPad, Apple’s hot new tablet computing device.

The company develops software that automates a physician’s duties, such as viewing patient data from electronic records systems, ordering prescriptions or lab tests, and recording charges for services. Some 23,000 clinicians use the software, which they can access on smartphones, laptops, PCs, and now the iPad, says company CEO Paul Brient.

The company, founded as Virtmed in 1996, was renamed in 2001 after the mobile app called “Patient Keeper” that a Texas physician developed for Palm Pilots, Brient says. The firm purchased that Palm app, which he says had an early “cult following,” about a decade ago. The firm has since gone on to support apps for smartphones such as BlackBerry devices, Windows Mobile phones, and the iPhone.

When developing software, PatientKeeper targets areas that make a physician’s workday easier and more productive, Brient says. This physician-centric product strategy sets PatientKeeper’s programs apart from most healthcare software systems, which are usually designed to automate tasks for a specific unit of a hospital such as a radiology lab, emergency room, or billing department. The firm’s unique approach in healthcare, which has changed and evolved over its 14-year history, has attracted about $84 million in venture investments.

Traditional healthcare software—including electronic health records (EHR) and computerized physician order entry (CPOE)—have failed to gain mainstream adoption among U.S. physicians. Many complain that the software makes them less productive than standard paper-based systems, and that doctors themselves don’t get rewarded for spending the time and money to adopt the technology. Brient says PatientKeeper has focused on software that not only makes doctors more productive but also improves their use of healthcare IT systems like CPOE.

“Our approach has been that if you want to get someone to adopt technology, you have to make the technology beneficial to that person,” he says. “You can’t say to them, ‘Hey, person, if you use this technology, it’s going to benefit all these other things and make the world a better place, but it’s going to slow you down and make you unproductive.’”

For the 200-person company’s latest mobile app, PatientKeeper took the capabilities it was already offering its users on their iPhones and iPod Touch devices and extended them to those with Apple’s iPad. (Read more here about the iPad’s capabilities.) Doctors can use the iPad app to view their patients’ lab results, medication history, and the status of exams or other things they have ordered. These are all tasks they might otherwise do manually or on another computer, so the firm’s software gives doctors the chance to do their work from virtually anywhere they can carry an iPad.

Apple controls about 60 percent of the smartphone market among physicians, Brient says, and that has prompted his firm to make its software accessible on the iPhone. The firm launched its first iPhone app in September 2009. Only about 20 percent of doctors who use the firm’s software do so with their smartphones, but Brient expects that rate to grow to 80 percent over the next year as more of them adopt the firm’s iPhone software. With its iPad app, the firm is betting that the tablet computer will become one of the next wireless computing phenomena in healthcare.

While PatientKeeper’s smartphone usage is important, the firm’s biggest priority over the past year has been to prepare for the imposition of “Meaningful Use,” the set of healthcare technology usage standards that will dictate whether a doctor’s office qualifies for its slice of the roughly $17 billion in federal incentives that Obama Administration’s healthcare reform legislation offers for adopting healthcare technology. In fact, the company raised $13 million in December to fuel expedited development of order-entry software, which will work on many platforms and willenable doctors to order lab tests, medications, and follow-up exams electronically. The software is expected to be required technology for doctors to comply with the new federal standards.

The company hasn’t officially launched the order-entry software, but customers such as Mercy Medical Center in Cedar Rapids, IA, and Naples, FL-based Health Management Associates (NYSEHMA) have already signed on to use it, Brient says. The firm’s software is designed to be built on top of existing health IT systems, while some larger firms require hospitals to adopt CPOE as part of an array of software they provide. The firm expects the new software to go live in the fourth quarter of this year, before doctors begin to collect incentives governed by “Meaningful Use” in 2011.

Flybridge Capital Partners, which first invested in PatientKeeper in 2008, sunk $5 million into the company’s latest round of funding for the CPOE project, says Chip Hazard, the general partner at Flybridge who led the firm’s investments in the company. The Boston venture firm, in fact, has led the company’s last two rounds of financing. A key factor in the firm’s decision to invest in PatientKeeper, Hazard says, was Brient’s expertise in health IT.

A former executive at the healthcare services giant McKesson, Brient took over as CEO of PatientKeeper in 2002. The small firm had already burned through $46 million of its $52 million in investment capital, he says, yet hadn’t found many customers for the technology it had developed or acquired. Brient says that he replaced every person in a management position at the firm within five months of his arrival because the previous managers had come from other industries and lacked experience in health IT. Today, after a significant investment in its CPOE product, the private company is finally earning as much as it’s spending, the CEO says.

“What the company has figured out how to do really well is provide technology that physicians actually use,” Hazard, a director at PatientKeeper, says. “Which sounds simpler than it actually is.”

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