Phreesia Keeps Data Digital When Patients Check In

The United States is investing billions of dollars to get doctors to use electronic health records for patients at their practices. Why then, Phreesia CEO Chaim Indig asks, are patients being handed the same old clipboards with papers to fill out when they arrive for appointments?

New York-based Phreesia, which Indig co-founded in 2005, aims to replace the clipboard with a wireless tablet computer called the PhreesiaPad. With about $17 billion allocated to boost the adoption of electronic health records made available through the the passage of President Obama’s economic stimulus plan about two years ago, doctors have had new incentives to make the jump from paper-based recordkeeping systems to digital health records. Though the federal incentives don’t apply to Phreesia’s technology, the overall theme of using information technology to better engage patients in their healthcare has worked in the company’s favor.

The way Indig sees it, healthcare has some catching up to do with other industries such as retail and financial services. Many of us pay for gas with a credit card at the pump, and we use ATM machines to deposit and withdraw cash, but such levels of automation are rarely seen when we step into a doctor’s office. The vast majority of doctors’ offices still give patients papers to fill out at check-in and employ office staff to process payments and check for valid insurance. This despite the fact that these practices are investing in electronic health records systems. “They’ve invested all this money in technology but they still haven’t enabled their patient,” Indig says.

PhreesiaPads present forms and questionnaires to patients on a touch screen. The devices come equipped with card swipes and can process insurance copayments, check and validate insurance, and enable other transactions. Phreesia doesn’t disclose specific financial figures or customer numbers, but Indig says the pads are now used by thousands of doctors in all 50 states and have handled millions of patient intakes.

Indig and co-founder Evan Roberts, the firm’s chief technology officer, learned about the need for data in health care while working in the Boston area for a software analytics firm called Spotfire (which was later sold to TIBCO Software in 2007 in a deal valued at $195 million). They both moved from Boston to New York City in 2005 to form Phreesia, initially running the company out of a small apartment on the Upper East Side.

While the co-founders left the Hub for Manhattan, the firm has won heavy support from Boston-area backers including HLM Venture Partners and Polaris Venture Partners. Phreesia has now raised about $45 million through four round of venture capital from HLM, Polaris, Ascension Health Ventures, Sandbox Industries, BlueCross BlueShield Venture Partners (which is managed by Sandbox), and VantagePoint Venture Partners. Alan Spoon, a well-known venture investor in tech and a general partner at Waltham, MA-based Polaris, serves on Phreesia’s board.

“We believe that the Phreesia platform can deliver a very powerful patient engagement experience that can assist patients and physicians with clinical, administrative and financial benefits,” said Ed Cahill, an HLM partner in Boston and a director at Phreesia, said in an e-mail. “I think the attraction of the company’s technology is demonstrated by the extremely rapid market uptake putting us already in thousands of physician offices.”

While Indig says that Phreesia’s greatest competition is still the paper clipboard, there are a number of outfits out there selling software and technology for automating patient intakes, including PatientWorks of Cary, NC, and the Wichita, KS-based healthcare software firm Pulse Systems. Phreesia gets paid through subscriptions and based on the number of transactions its devices process, Indig says. This differs from rivals, who make most of their money upfront by selling patient check-in kiosks or software for patient intake. Also, Phreesia’s devices are made with antibacterial plastic and designed to withstand some the wear and tear of use in a busy doctor’s office, Indig says.

Phreesia is also developing tools to link its devices with doctors’ electronic health record systems. This way, the information collected from patients with Phreesia’s devices can be fed directly into their electronic records—no manual transcription required. Already, the company has done such integrations for more than 100 clients with EHRs from vendors such as Allscripts, Amazing Charts, and NextGen. With the integration tools it has already developed for such firms’ EHRs, Indig says, his staff can often walk people through the integrations over the phone.

Though Indig declines to reveal financial details, he says that Phreesia has been growing rapidly. The company now has about 100 employees, a third of which are based at its headquarters office in Manhattan. Phreesia’s other employees are in the field or located at its support center in Ontario, Canada. The company has clearly come a long way since its early days operating in a small apartment in the city.

Still, I had to ask Indig why he and Roberts moved to New York from Boston, where there’s an established tech scene. For one, he said, Roberts was moving to be with his now wife who got into medical school here. Indig, who grew up in Canada, says that he simply prefers New York over Boston.

“We think that New York is a phenomenal place to grow a company,” Indig says. “You get a great vibe.”

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