Health systems willing to experiment with new payment models has created an unprecedented opportunity for startup companies. But first their technologies must get to and through the pilot phase.
That test period allows innovators to develop a sophisticated understanding of how their technology works in a clinical setting. Otherwise, innovators might get trapped in what is known as the "productivity paradox," where increases in information technology are accompanied by a simultaneous slowdown in productivity.
Sarasota, Fla.-based Voalte, whose app allows clinicians to communicate via text or voice over internet, learned that lesson the hard way. After its two-month pilot at Cedars-Sinai Health System in Los Angeles failed, the company had to completely revamp its app.
Voalte's big break came through a chance encounter at the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society conference in Chicago in 2009. Darren Dworkin, chief information officer of Cedars-Sinai, showed up at the Voalte booth, where Trey Lauderdale, the firm's president, was demonstrating the product. Dworkin agreed to a pilot on the spot.
Cedars-Sinai had been struggling with disruptive overhead paging, frustrating bouts of telephone tag and costly cellular bills. The fact that Voalte's app could be used throughout the system was a major plus.
But the first deployment at Cedars-Sinai was rough. Clinicians struggled with dropped calls and bad reception. The app was weak when it was used too far from a Wi-Fi access point.
Voalte also noticed workflow problems. What were the protocols for when a call should be made or text sent? What if someone was busy? How could important contacts be escalated and separated from routine chatter? "We didn't fully appreciate how much it impacted nurses' daily life," Lauderdale said. "Communication is embedded within each task."