TMCx advisor and orthopedic surgeon J. Michael Bennett interviews startups for his podcast, “Behind the Pitch with Dr. J.” The following is an excerpt from a recent interview with Ken Saman, CEO of Personify Care, an Australian digital health care company offering a platform for supporting patients before and after their hospital stays.
Dr. J.: Ken, can you tell me a little bit about your technology, just the nuts and bolts? What exactly does it do, and what demographic are you primarily targeting?
Ken: We’ve developed a mobile platform that lets clinical hospitals, clinical teams and surgical centers plug in their existing pre-admission and post-discharge protocols to monitor the preparation of the patient in the lead up to a surgery, and then making sure they’re recovering well at home after they’ve had a procedure.
We really set out to solve the basic problem of, “How do you provide the support to that patient who’s either been told they’re about to have a procedure, or have just been discharged from hospital.” Typically, they have a vague memory of what they need to do when they’ve gone home, and all they have is a bunch of paper forms. That’s really what we set out to solve, initially.
We’re really trying to do multiple things at once, make the process more convenient for the patient, for patients all the way through to their 80s, typically the higher-risk populations, but also save time for the clinical team within in the clinic of the hospital.
Dr. J.: How did this idea come to fruition? Was this your idea? Was it based on a personal experience?
Ken: I spent seven years in the eCommerce world, in a high-tech, high-growth technology company, where we were using big data sets to essentially make it easier for consumers to find the products they wanted to buy for the top 100 retailers. Essentially what we learned from that was if you make it easier for a consumer to find what they wanted to buy, they bought lots more stuff, right? So my wife’s family and my wife herself are health professionals, and I came home one day and said, “We achieved some record revenue growth for our customers,” and she said she saved three people’s lives that day.
That was the trigger really, the moment where we started saying, “Could we apply some of those same principles in the eCommerce world to make it easier for patients to do what they needed to do, in terms of recovering from procedures?” We experimented with different types of products and solutions and ended up in the surgical space because we found that was an area where the problems were the biggest, the cost was highest and the need was most apparent. [We are] in a world where you can order a pizza online, but you still can’t access your information about your health care beyond a piece of paper.
Dr. J.: Amazing. So the technology itself, now I assume it’s proprietary?
Ken: We have trade secrets around the methods we’re using to generate a high response rate from patients, so fundamentally our technology does two things that’s unique in the marketplace. One is it keeps the control of the clinical protocol in the hands of the clinicians and the clinical teams. Within our platform you can configure your own protocols so that you don’t have to change your workflow of a clinical protocol itself.
The second key component is there’s a lot of technology out there about putting some protocol online. The problem is most patients don’t end up using that online solution. So, at the core of our technology is generating a high response rate, and we have an underlying learning system that uses patient behavior data to optimize for a high response rate. We showed, in some case studies in the last year, we were able to deliver a 95 percent plus response rate from patients, all the way through to their 80s, across a 12-week protocol.
Dr. J.: That’s a remarkable response rate, honestly I’ve never really heard of it being that high. That’s pretty impressive. Are you doing that primarily through push notifications, texting, follow up calls, or email?
Ken: From a patient’s perspective, we found it’s really important to keep things simple—particularly for the older population—so we don’t use a native app because getting a patient in their 70s or 80s to download an app from an app store, you’ll lose most of them.
We use just basic text messaging. If you can use text messages, you can use our system. Patients get a text message from their nurse or their clinical team as and when they need to do something, and they get a link to a checklist of the things they need to do, they need to know, and they need to tell their clinical team about that day. We keep that experience really simple, but in the background we’re monitoring all of that interaction with our system, and so we track a large number of attributes now across each patient.
Dr. J.: How are you planning on monetizing this technology, and what are you planning to do here in the United States?
Ken: We are live commercially in Australia, and we had our first revenue in January of this year. The way we offer our solution is really on a per clinical user—per month licensee fee—so a traditional enterprise software solution platform. You can start with as few as two or three users in a small clinic or outpatient environment, or you can roll it out across a hospital site, or across multiple sites. For a hospital-wide deployment, we typically roll that up into an annual license where we cap the number of users we’re charging for across a hospital site.
Dr. J.: What’s the biggest obstacles you have run into at this point, and what do you foresee in the future as being obstacles that you will need to overcome?
Ken: When we first started, one of the basic things we had to take care of from was dealing with security and privacy at a very fundamental level. We built the system from the ground up to make sure we have best-in-class security processes, but to also adhere to all the regulation requirements, both in Australia and in the U.S. markets where we’re targeting.
The second thing that we found early on is really overcoming the perception that health care technology has a reputation for over promising and under delivering. I remember our first conversations when we first built our first version of our platform, we went and met with a group of experienced clinicians and nurses, and the first thing they said to us was, “Ken, we don’t have time for this, we have patients to take care of.” Their expectation was, technology was just going to add to their workload, not make their lives simpler. That’s still a perception that we have to deal with in the marketplace—that people are used to several months or several years implementation projects before anything real happens.
When a change is introduced they’re used to that change creating a whole bunch of work for them, and we come along and say, “Well actually, we can get you live next week, and you don’t have to change anything about your workflows,” and they look at you funny.
Dr. J.: Yeah, that’s a big difference. Education is a huge part of it, especially when it comes to new technology and medicine, but it sounds like you’ve done pretty well with that. What are your plans and where do you see yourself in the next five years?
Ken: There’s a huge potential market here in the U.S. The problem we’re solving is really the fact that one in five patients gets readmitted into hospital within 30 days of having a procedure. That’s a huge problem from an economic perspective, but an even bigger problem from the patient’s perspective. The body of clinical evidence on how to avoid readmissions is well established. What’s been missing is a way of delivering these protocols in a way that’s convenient for the patient, saves time for clinical team and saves money for health care groups. That’s what we’re building at Personify Care.