Doctors’ Discontent Helps Madison Startup Healthfinch Grow

Health technology startup Healthfinch has grown from four employees to 21 since January 2014. How? By selling software that saves doctors time, letting them spend more of their day with patients.

The Madison, WI-based company—which streamlines routine hospital tasks through integrated software apps—would not be able to do what it does without electronic health record (EHR) systems, said chief operating officer and medical doctor Sanaz Cordes.

But Healthfinch’s early success points to a big problem: doctors’ concerns about the efficiency and usability of those EHR systems, and the administrative tasks associated with them.

Healthfinch, which has raised almost $3 million since its founding in 2011, tries to address that problem. The company was started to improve doctors’ satisfaction and productivity at work through software solutions, Cordes said.

“Physicians were getting burned out because they were being asked to do a lot of routine tasks,” she said.

A 2013 study commissioned by the American Medical Association showed that EHR systems could be part of the problem.

In interviews and surveys, physicians said that while they understood the benefits of storing medical records electronically, the systems were not user-friendly, conflicted with clinical workflows, and hampered their interactions with patients.

In addition, they said, many tasks required of them by EHR systems would be better done by lower-level personnel. Specifically, 61 percent of doctors surveyed agreed or strongly agreed that “Our electronic health record requires me to perform tasks that other staff could perform.”

“Physicians have to order everything themselves, which is time-consuming, and do all the data entry themselves, which is time consuming,” one primary-care physician said in an anonymous survey. “[EHRs] at this point in the development are not time savers for physicians. They’re big time sinks.”

To alleviate that, Healthfinch automates or delegates some tasks for doctors, Cordes said. Using algorithms approved by physicians—collectively called a “rules engine”—its first app, Swoop, simplifies prescription refills by digging through a patient’s chart and bringing up the most relevant data. “A human still has to review that and hit accept,” Cordes said. But that person can be a nurse in many cases, freeing up time for doctors to spend with more pressing patients.

“We want the doctor to be able to focus on the 20 percent of his patients who are truly sick,” Cordes said.

What would otherwise take a doctor three minutes now can be done by a nurse in three seconds, Cordes said. That’s important for doctors, she added, because an average physician spends 30 minutes each day renewing prescriptions. And for patients, prescription refills now can be available on the same day, rather than two or three days later.

More than 1,400 doctors, physician assistants, nurses, and other healthcare personnel are using Swoop, and the software has processed about 1.4 million prescription refill requests since launching in 2012, Cordes said.

Healthfinch hopes to repeat that success with other simple tasks, such as getting lab and diagnostic results (including X-rays), and consult requests, Cordes said.

“We can essentially rinse and repeat that methodology” thanks to the algorithms already in place, she said. And that can also make life easier for nurses and other personnel. “We don’t want to just rescue physicians,” she said. “We want to rescue the entire clinical team.”

Healthfinch tries to keep things simple for those team members, Cordes said. Rather than requiring doctors and nurses to learn another user interface, the company integrates its software with existing EHR systems and works behind the scenes. That’s critical, as healthcare IT is growing more complex and physicians have ever-increasing demands on their time.

Indeed, the time and energy the software saves improves doctors’ quality of life, Cordes said.

“If 10 years ago these apps had existed, maybe I’d still be practicing,” she said.

Noah Greer is a freelance writer. Follow @

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