Episode #47

Podcast with Tom White, Founder and CEO, Phynd Technologies

"In future, 80% of healthcare needs will be addressed by digital health tools."

paddy Hosted by Paddy Padmanabhan

In this episode, Tom White, Founder and CEO of Phynd Technologies discusses why digital front door technologies and interoperability are the key to the healthcare delivery ecosystem. He also talks about the company’s evolution and the marketplace needs they address.

Digital front door technologies are being adopted extensively by healthcare systems and are practical and useful for the industry, especially in the current pandemic situation. Tom believes that 80% of healthcare should be driven through digital means and 20% through phone calls, unlike the current situation.

Phynd Technologies’ platform focuses on the provider data, defined as people, places, and services, and simplifies provider data management for healthcare systems.

Tom White, Founder and CEO, Phynd Technologies in conversation with Paddy Padmanabhan, CEO of Damo Consulting on the Big Unlock Podcast – “In future, 80% of healthcare needs will be addressed by digital health tools.”

PP: Hello, everyone, and welcome back to my podcast. It is my great privilege and honor to introduce my special guest today, Tom White, Founder and CEO of Phynd Technologies. Tom, thank you so much for setting aside time. And welcome to the show.

PP: Tom, could you start by telling us briefly about the company and its evolution and what the marketplace needs you’re trying to address.

TW: Phynd technologies is a little over seven years old. The core thesis that we started with is still the same concept in that we believe that health care systems need a central hub of provider information that can flow into their clinical, marketing, and claims systems that keep everything in sync from a data perspective. But then also enables output into areas that can drive consumer experience and better operations through better provider data. The marketplace need that we focus on was that EHR is fantastic in managing the patient journey, but not designed as much to focus on the providers themselves and providers really defined as people, places, and services. It’s a broad term that means that basically some products, the health care system can offer to the consumer population. So, it literally is the doctors. It’s the locations even nowadays a COVID testing site would be a place to the services that the healthcare system can offer, whether it’s telemedicine, e-visit, virtual visit, those types of things. Historically hospitals manage data on people, places, and services in different places in EHR. From the clinical perspective, marketing typically has its own that drives its patient engagement strategies. Claims have their own system, their own database. What we’ve done is we’ve merged everything into one profile. So, following the Epic model of one patient, one record, we really focus on one provider, one profile, and that profile can be people, places, and services.

PP: You’re right now in the middle of a very exciting time and a transition for healthcare. COVID-19 has accelerated telehealth adoption and virtual care models. So, I imagine that the need for having the ability to go online, triage your own symptoms, find a provider, and schedule an appointment. All of that is coming together in a way that potentially is beneficial for a company like yours. Many health systems are also having financial challenges because of the unexpected costs of COVID-19. How has the market environment changed for you from pre-COVID-19 to now and what does it mean for Phynd in the marketplace now?

TW: Yes, we’ve seen an acceleration in interest from prospects across the country because of the digital front door ecosystem, whether it’s symptom checkers, smart waitlist, appointment reminders, self-scheduling, providers search all these different things. That ecosystem is certainly right now very, very practical and useful. And it’s really being adopted across the industry. What all those systems need is a provider data solution and the central hub idea back to the original question of provider information that people, places, and services that can feed all these different types of systems. Because there’s lots of vendors out there and hospitals, it’s competitive. So, there’s a lot of startups and hospitals are looking at buying different types of solutions. But what they need at the bottom of that is that foundational level is this provider data management platform, the central hub that can keep those. And so, we’re seeing a lot of interest in what we do because it really is that basis for the digital front door. We call it the digital house; we are the foundation for that house. The front door is the web site and the consumer experience. But that notion is going to change and shift as patient engagement tools get adopted. It is maybe the web site for the narrow network that the health systems partnered with. It could be a pop-up microsite on COVID testing tents that are in the city. It could be a payer health care system, the partnership web site really exposed, some value-based care entities, whether it’s ACO, CIM. And so, the notion of a digital front door, we think is going to be expanded to include windows, another door, a front door, back door windows and all those kinds of fun things. The house framework itself is the provider data that’s going to see those different types of systems. And then you have got apps, you’ve got mobile applications, everything’s going to end up being kind of done on your phone anyways.

PP: That’s a very interesting way of looking at the digital front door concept. And I agree with you that there is no single universal definition of digital front doors. That means different things based on the context, based on the entity and so on. And of course, you are obviously approaching it from the point of view of provider data, patient data as the other side of the coin, which is also something that health systems are focusing very heavily on in order to get a unified view of the patients. So, all of this is converging in a way that I think is going to make for some very interesting times for all the companies that are active in this space. And that actually leads me to my next question to you. Where do you see yourself in the context of the entire ecosystem of solution providers that are operating this whole space that for want of a better term, we call the digital front doors? You’ve got the EHR companies – Epic, Cerner, and so on. You have got big tech firms who are trying to have some kind of role play in this. And then, of course, your compatriots in the digital health ecosystem. Where do you see yourself and how do you see yourself kind of maximizing your opportunity in the coming quarters?

TW: So we see ourselves side by side with the EHR, we sit next to Epic or Cerner in that we integrate by directionally where we are the partner with both of them. We have unique applications on provider enrollment with those systems. As the clinical area is engaging with patients, they need provider profiles to actually run the claims and do care coordination, and then that we act as the backbone again the central hub. And so, the provider profile flows from Phynd into the EHR when the patient encounters start. If they’re in the EHR that data is being essentially managed inside Phynd and it’s bidirectional with EHR. So, what’s in Phynd is also in the EHR. If the providers not in the EHR, which happens about 20% times, then we embed ourselves in the EHR workflow so that the registration scheduling folks which are thousands of people in the hospital, can onboard a provider via the EHR that really using the Phynd platform to pull that data and create that provided profile inside the EHR. And then once they’ve created that provider profile in the EHR, its in Phynd. We call it IPASS. It’s integrated. It’s an integrated platform as a service. So again, one to one relationship, then the Phynd application is used across the enterprise. And one of our clients, we have 12000 end users. And these are all staff inside the hospital systems that are changing data on the providers real-time inside Phynd. And then that’s updating Epic as an example or Cerner. But then it’s also going downstream to the marketing team to give them the updates. So, marketing knows what the latest information is and the providers that they’re publishing now on their web site are web sites. And then it pushes down into the claims so when the claim is processed, that the hospital system actually gets paid faster because they have better data in the system on the provider itself.

PP: Are you, therefore, looking to become the single source of truth, if you will, for provider data?

TW: We are the single source of truth is a touchy word. I guess it’s a political word in that, credentialing they manage the privileging in the onboarding of privileged doctors into the hospital. So, they are the source of truth for that process. Whereas from a clinical side, the EHR typically is the source of truths for certain parts of the record of the provider. And then if you look at marketing, marketing is going to have to go to be they’re going to have their own, you know, their own information, whether it’s a bio video, clinical taxonomy, those things, that is a source of truth for marketing. So, we don’t want anybody to think that we’re replacing what they do from a process perspective. But what we do is we integrate all that data into one profile. So, there’s one profile on you, for example, that would have all your clinical information that’s relevant for Epic, all your credentialing information that’s relevant to the credentialing system that the hospital uses. All the marketing data and all the claims data. So, everything’s managed inside one profile. And then what you can do with that because you’ve got it to download one location versus 20 different silos, which is what the way it works now is that you can then point that profile to different things to optimize the operations at the healthcare system. You can make Epic actually work better. You can make marketing have a better search for the providers and scheduling experience for the consumer. And then on the claim side, you can get claims very faster.

PP: Who is your primary target audience within our health system? You mentioned so many different stakeholders. Is it the Chief Marketing Officer, Chief Patient Experience, Chief Medical Officer, who is it?

TW: The CIO is always involved. Some of your past guests on the podcast are clients of ours. Its CIOs, CMIOs, certainly marketing. The marketing officer is heavily involved as well. But in a lot of ways it’s a technology purchase. It’s a data platform that transforms the healthcare enterprise and it can make marketing a lot better. But what is interesting, in the market there is been a lot of vendors for a while that have made marketing-focused solutions. And we think that those were good transitional technologies. But as the pandemic happened and as healthcare systems have focused in on the notion that fewer vendors doing more platform focused concepts like what we do. We think that it makes sense for healthcare systems to really look at things like Phynd and say how can we optimize and operationalize provider data across clinical marketing claims, these different areas versus having these independent systems. So, we end up selling to everybody in a typical environment, we will have a CIO in a room, even CEO, CMIO, Chief Marketing Officer, certainly Chief Digital Officer as well. We have a lot of those clients because we speak their language. We kind of talk to all of them at the same time.

PP: What is your kind of sales cycles look like? I imagine that you have to get multiple stakeholders on board before somebody signs your purchase order, right?

TW: So, it’s certainly enterprise software sales. So, it’s our sales team is a very experienced professional, a consultative team that focuses on the issues and the problems that our clients have. So, the sales cycle could be four months, it could be twelve months to 18 months. It just depends on where the client is. So, I think that it’s just a matter of time that this notion of this digital house, the digital front door certainly has accelerated some conversations we’ve had. The Epic relationship and the EHR relationships are accelerating right now because it’s interesting a lot of our clients when the pandemic happened, they said, we need to bring back retired doctors, nurses and all these folks that we’re not in the day to day health care workplace. They said, how can we find folks that are either retired, maybe taking a sabbatical, those kinds of things. We have all that data. So, it just depends on the event or the opportunity to really say, hey, we really need provider the data front and center in our core IT strategy. Where we are standing up right now is a microsite where one of the biggest clients showed all there COVID testing tents because those testing sites move based on where the hotspots are in their geography. And right now, there’s no way to go for a consumer to go to the web site and say, show me where they are today or where they were yesterday. With Phynd, you can in real-time say, we want to show these 20 or 30 different tent sites and we want to show the hours of operation. And they can change the hours of operation to their web site at a moment’s notice so they can really expand the offering to consumers, just like what you’re used to when you get at Nordstrom’s or any other kind of retail operation that a consumer-focused. We’re helping our clients do that right now. So back to your question. It’s the cycles based on the need in the event of our clients. But we think this universal need for it is just a matter where they all kind of get there and the thought process.

PP: Tom, the digital health ecosystem has been receiving billions in VC money over the last several years. By all indications, it is a thriving ecosystem. A lot of innovative products that are coming out, such as yours. And firstly, I’d love to get your thoughts, on how you’re funded, are you VC funded. Are you in a position to share any of those details just to get a sense of what your profile is, what Phynd’s profile is? And then generally, what do you see as the opportunities and challenges for digital health startups in light of the COVID-19?

TW: We’re VC funded. We have a traditional kind of tier-one VCs. But then we also have some health systems as investors. So Memorial Care based out of Long Beach, California. So, it’s the system that runs from LA down to San Diego. They have an innovation fund. They’re a significant investor in Phynd. The University of North Carolina health care system, they have a venture fund. They’re an investor in Phynd. And so is Orlando Health as well. When we did or our funding, we said let’s blend together both top-notch VS operational experience with top-notch healthcare strategic experience and on the board level. And so every board meeting is really interesting because we get both the VC and put around risk finance, operations and then the healthcare side really driving into things like what we’re experiencing right now in what’s happening to them because we get we kind of get access into what their CEOs and their boards are talking about, triaging their own business over the last couple of months because it’s blocking revenue, because of, elective surgeries and all the things you heard about and talked about. We’re really happy with our mix of investors. Since the pandemic is still a tremendous amount of investment in the patient engagement area. And there’s a lot of great solutions that are out there. And I do think that there needs to be a coming together of them. There’s just going to be too many choices for healthcare systems to have to kind of weed through to buy things. And so, I think that there’s got to be some level setting eventually, whether it’s consolidation, M&A activity, or partnerships as well. But there’s going to be some consolidation. There are just too many vendors kind of chasing some of the same ideas. I think right now and, you know, we help our clients, really. We’re agnostic when it comes to other vendors. And so, we’ll integrate with any of them. But they’re certainly asking us a lot of the questions that you get asked a lot, too, as well. As you know, there are five people that do this one thing. How do we just differentiate?

PP: That’s kind of what we do as a business. We really help our client’s sort through their technology choices when it comes to implementing the digital roadmap. We start by helping them figure out whatever the roadmap even needs to look like for them. And then we go to the technology layer and then the actual partner selection process. But you’re right, that is certainly one of the questions that we get asked a lot, because, there’s so much so little public information about many of the startups. And there’s not a lot of evidence either, especially if you’re a young startup, you don’t have a whole lot of clients and you may have a great product. What are the risks and rewards involved here? How do we manage to all of those become very interesting questions in the context of digital health? These are questions that were never asked. They’re talking to one of the big tech firms. But there’s a whole different set of questions there. Let’s just coming up to the close of our time here. Tom, I just want to get your thoughts on what the emerging healthcare experience looks like for regular consumers like you and me. And what are some of the emerging technologies that you think are going to play a big role in that experience of the future?

TW: I think that’s the future is bright for consumers. When our clients are doing and what my local healthcare system is doing, they have an app that I can message my doctor, my PCP right now. I can do evisits. Those are all great starting points. I do think that they need to get deeper into digital, into the digital diagnosis, that there’s that mystery in science about healthcare, where you think you either have a common cold or you’re really sick. It’s like people tend to be hypochondriacs. I feel really sick when they may not be. And so, this notion that the industry should do a better job of saying, no, no, you can do a digital diagnosis and you’ve got to come call whatever it may be. So kind of really taking some of the mystery out of the diagnosing certain issues. I do think that the digital front door in the technologies will hopefully expand the learning and the use of consumers across the board. There are just too many phone calls, right? I mean, I don’t know your experiences, but I still have to call into my providers sometimes not my PCP, but other providers to schedule, whether it is colonoscopy or whatever, radiologists and. Yeah, and those things need you to know, it needs to flip. I’d say that 80 percent of health care is driven on phone calls and 20 percent digital and needs to be 80 percent digital, 20 percent phone calls.

PP: That’s so well. So, I think that is the headroom for growth. So, if you were half empty or half full, you would look at it differently. But that whole picture there that you just painted. I see that as the opportunity landscape, just inverting that mix going from 80 percent phone calls to 20 percent phone calls. That is the Holy Grail, I imagine. And I hope that we see it in the foreseeable future. And I’m kind of confident companies like yours are going to play an important role in that I guess.

TW: Yeah, I agree with you. I’m a glass half full person in general and I’m just being a startup person. It just kind of comes with the territory. The other point I want to make is that interoperability integration is key. We talked about a tremendous amount of patient engagement vendors that are coming to market in that that you have to be integrated into the IT topography, the landscape. So, the data has to be bidirectional, it has to create this feedback loop. So, if you’re doing digital diagnosis, what are people asking about? What are the conditions? What are the hotspots as far as illnesses? And so, this notion that the digital data feedback loop needs to be there. And so, I just think that’s important for when health systems are looking at vendors that they ensure that it’s bidirectional into their core clinical systems because of the ideas are that of patient care. And so, you just need that data feedback loop.

PP: I generally tend to like startups and especially digital health startups that have a very focused offering and they go deep into it and they do it really, really well, as opposed to a company that might want to do the multiple things and not do any of them really well. I am a half-full kind of guy, I’m an entrepreneur like it comes with the territory. I feel like the digital engagement touchpoint in a typical consumer journey today are not only many, but they’re also expanding. A year ago, you might have thought often, or twelve touchpoints that you would consider high priority focus areas or opportunity areas. Today I can name 25 or 30 such touchpoints. And who knows, a year from now there may be 60 high value, high impact digital touchpoints. And in an ideal situation, you would have a handful of companies that do exceedingly well in one of those touchpoints. And that is what would open up the opportunity landscape for buyers, namely the health systems, in order to really transform the experience of healthcare today. I think part of the challenge also is to your point. A lot of people are pursuing the rainbow, some think that triaging is the cool thing or COVID-19 is a cool thing. But you’ve got to really take a step back and commit yourself to the longer come and pick the sport for you and go deep into it more likely than not to come out successful. But it is a long, hard journey.

TW: Yeah, it’s a journey for sure. And it’s definitely a movement. So, I think that the industry is moving in the right direction, but it’s going to be a long-term process. And it’s going to be great for consumers. So, I’m excited about it. As a consumer of health care on the telephone.

PP: Tom, such a pleasure speaking with you. I look forward to staying in touch and following the progress of finding all the best to you and your team.

We hope you enjoyed this podcast. Subscribe to our podcast series at www.thebigunlock.com and write to us at  info@thebigunlock.com

Disclaimer: This Q&A has been derived from the podcast transcript and has been edited for readability and clarity.

About our guest

Thomas-White

Tom is responsible for day-to-day management decisions and for implementing the company's long and short-term plans.

Prior to Phynd, Tom co-founded healthcare IT company Vocada (now part of Nuance Communications; NASDAQ: NUAN) and Newscast, Inc. He also serves as a mentor to the start-up accelerator Health Wildcatters.

About the host

Paddy is the co-author of Healthcare Digital Transformation – How Consumerism, Technology and Pandemic are Accelerating the Future (Taylor&  Francis, Aug 2020), along with Edward W. Marx. Paddy is also the author of the best-selling book The Big Unlock – Harnessing Data and Growing Digital Health Businesses in a Value-based Care Era (Archway Publishing, 2017). He is the host of the highly subscribed The Big Unlock podcast on digital transformation in healthcare featuring C-level executives from the healthcare and technology sectors. He is widely published and has a by-lined column in CIO Magazine and other respected industry publications.

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Sign up to get Paddy’s Newsletter that is personally curated by Paddy along with analytical notes on the developments for the week.