A group of health care executives in Missoula have attracted $1.2 million for a new technology-based startup that aims to improve surgical patient outcomes and are planning on creating at least a handful of new jobs here.
Former St. Patrick Hospital CEO Jeff Fee has teamed up with Five Valleys Urology administrator John O’Connor and software expert Erik Guzik to create a digital health company called PatientOne, Inc. Their platform offers remote patient monitoring services to independent surgeons, surgery centers and hospitals.
The company recently announced it had attracted the funding from Dundee Venture Capital and Revolution’s Rise of the Rest Seed Fund, which was co-founded by former America Online (AOL) CEO Steve Case. Other investors in PatientOne’s seed round include Next Frontier Capital of Bozeman, Goodworks Venture fund of Missoula and Service Provider Capital of Golden, Colorado.
The successful funding further solidifies Montana’s status as a burgeoning tech incubator, O’Connor noted.
“For our two main investors, this is the first time these groups, who are major investors, have ever invested in a Montana company,” he said. “Montana is not necessarily known as a startup hot spot, but it’s becoming a lot more active and people are starting to take note. It’s a pretty big deal, and we’re very excited.”
O’Connor said the company has developed a proprietary method to help cut down on risk, communication errors and complications surrounding the surgical process.
“Almost two years ago, a couple guys approached me and said ‘hey, we want to tackle this problem’,” O’Connor recalled. “Medicare alone says they spend $50 billion a year on avoidable communication issues. It’s a huge problem.”
O’Conner said many people who are told they need surgery go into what he called “Charlie Brown mode.”
“All they hear is ‘womp, womp’ and instructions are hard to understand,” he said. “Patients, a lot of times, are confused and do not have complete information before they go into a procedure. This leads to a lot of problems. If somebody eats or forgets to go off blood-thinners, surgeries get canceled or they have bad outcomes because the patients were not prepared.”
That can also lead to a lot of problems with post-operative care, he said.
“If the patients don’t stay on their post-discharge instructions or follow the incision-site care guidelines, it causes avoidable post-operative complications,” he said. “Medical malpractice companies, doctors, hospitals and everyone is interested in preventing communication errors.”
Last year, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services implemented a new policy that allowed doctors to get reimbursed for using electronic means to communicate with patients.
“That was a game-changer,” O’Connor explained. “However (CMS) goes, that tends to be how commercial carriers follow.”
The way PatientOne works, he explained, is after a patient signs up they get information delivered to them in snippets when they need it instead of all at once in a huge overwhelming cascade.
“They can use email or their laptop or a smartphone or any mobile device,” he said. “When a patient gets assigned a surgery, say to have a prostate removed, they get an account. It’s a cloud-based solution that takes less than 30 seconds. So before the surgery they’ll get educational videos or sometimes texts. They’ll get reminders about how to prepare for surgery, when to stop blood-thinners and that kind of information.”
The patients have to interact with the system and check things off a list, and all those messages flow back to the health care provider.
“The practice also gets auto-reminders to help determine priorities,” O’Conner said. “If a patient is confused about some instruction or stopped replying, the practice gets a reminder saying ‘John O’Connor is not on track for surgery’ and they reach out.”
O’Conner said there are other companies in the patient education portal business, and he thinks the industry is poised for huge growth.
“We’re the only company that allows the patient to share whatever you want to share with whoever,” he explained. “If your mom or dad want to share with you, they can copy you and you can see the chat history. This allows family members and caregivers to take part in the process.”
The company intends to hire five professional positions, including a medical content protocol manager, over the next two months. Their offices are located downtown near Caras Park. The team believes that the significant amount of venture capital they’ve attracted shows that investors are optimistic about their growth plans and business model.
“We are very excited about the future of our company and the opportunities this funding allows,” said Fee, whose former title was technically CEO of the Western Montana Region for Providence Health. “To be supported by these top-flight investors in our early stage is an enormous advantage and the knowledge they possess is invaluable to our team.”