By GREGORY ZELLER // A Long Island hedge fund manager and a team of doctors are tackling the modern health-care provider’s big-data dilemma.
Electronic record-keeping, compliance with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, voluminous Medicare-reimbursement reporting … there are mountains of virtual paperwork to handle.
Throw in one of the most disputed components of the controversial Affordable Care Act – “patient satisfaction” provisions that tie physicians’ Medicare reimbursements to patient surveys – and it’s clear why the private practitioner is an endangered species.
Chris Lonardo believes the laborious busywork is interfering with the science of medicine. In fact, he witnessed the dilemma firsthand: His fiancée, Jean Ee Tang, a PhD candidate at Columbia University, was increasingly bogged down by paperwork, slowing her studies and her ability to help patients.
Lonardo, who managed a small St. James-based hedge fund, determined to ease the burden. Last year, the investor-turned-entrepreneur – along with Tang, Stony Brook-trained Dr. Mitchell Fourman and Dr. Ish Bhalla, a psychiatric resident at Yale University – launched Coalytics, a digital platform combining record-keeping, insurance compliance, Medicare reimbursements, cloud-based provider collaborations and a host of other practice-management solutions.
“Data management is a widespread and multifaceted problem in health care and medical research,” Lonardo told Innovate LI. “It’s more than just saving and storing large amounts of data. It’s what you’re capturing, how you’re capturing it, how you’re sharing it and being able to aggregate it in a way that doesn’t interfere with the science.”
At first, Coalytics was a side project based on his fiancée’s frustrations, but Lonardo and his partners – including Fourman, a classmate at Ward Melville High School and at SBU, where Lonardo earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology – quickly sensed a “massive opportunity” in capturing multimodal data for clinical and academic clients.
“The feedback we’ve received from the medical field has been universally enthusiastic,” Lonardo said. “People get it immediately. They want to know how soon they can replace their existing disjointed workflow.”
The straw that broke the health-care provider’s back may have been the ACA’s patient-satisfaction provisions. Akin to a credit card company asking diners if they enjoyed their meal – and not paying the restaurant if they didn’t – the rule has understandably troubled health-care providers, whose compensation now relies on the opinions of patients who might not have enjoyed their colonoscopy.
“A majority of U.S. physicians don’t have a favorable view of the ACA, largely because it compresses profitability and skews incentives,” Lonardo noted. “Obamacare is really squeezing provider margins.”
That’s why the Coalytics platform includes functionality for doctors to do their own patient-outcome reporting, allowing them to directly contest patient reports.
“Coalytics helps them maximize reported outcomes, with the obvious incentive being paid their full rate,” Lonardo said.
But disputing poor reviews is hardly the platform’s only function. The big-picture idea is to help physicians improve patient outcomes as well as patient satisfaction, so Coalytics – available online in Beta form now, with a mobile app expected this fall – combines numerous functions that collate data, streamline reporting and otherwise create a smoother workflow for the healthcare provider.
“Quality assurance and quality improvement are relatively new concepts in medicine,” Lonardo noted. “This ultimately allows physicians to better monitor how patients are doing.”
Of course, Coalytics can’t do that if health-care providers don’t use it. While Lonardo is handling the programming himself, sculpting the physician-end interface falls to Fourman, the company’s chief medical officer.
“I’m focusing on making it something physicians can find immediately useful,” Fourman said, citing the significant challenge that physicians are “generally slow to adopt new ideas and technologies.
“They use very consistent platforms that are either paper-based or, in the case of electronic health records, something they’re not entirely comfortable with,” he added. “When you deliver something new, something based on a mobile platform, they’re going to be slow to adopt it.”
Discussing this with other physicians, Fourman has determined that the simpler the interface, the better – a design technique at the heart of the Coalytics platform, Lonardo noted.
“You don’t ever have to create any code with this,” the CEO said. “You can install plug-ins that bring in MRI images or synchronize treatment parameters, all in a secure fashion.”
The platform is also proving useful as a collaboration hub. Coalytics is currently hosting a study that involves four clinics in New York and Connecticut, including dozens of researchers and 200+ patients.
“We provide the infrastructure to have all this data seamlessly aggregated,” Lonardo noted. “Participants can have this purely collaborative operational element, and regardless of what IOS or android devices they’re running or where they are geographically, they can collaborate in our cloud environment.”
The Coalytics teams isn’t done adding functionality. By the time the mobile app drops this fall, in addition to the Beta version’s paperwork-reducing, compliance-improving protocols, Coalytics will be able to integrate data from medical devices, including images; record data from game-like cognitive tests used heavily in neurology and psychology; and perform a host of data-mining functions, putting a universe of medical knowledge at users’ fingertips.
The company is conducting test studies with Stony Brook Medicine’s Department of Plastic Surgery and groups at Columbia, Harvard, Yale and New York universities. It has bootstrapped its way so far – Lonardo estimated the partners have invested about $15,000 to this point – but principals pitched the Long Island Angel Network’s screening committee in June and will ultimately seek $400,000 in venture capital.
Coalytics will monetize by charging for its forthcoming mobile app and eventually requiring subscriptions. But for now, the team is focusing on perfecting its platform.
“We’re extracting the expense of HIPAA compliance,” Lonardo said. “We’re removing a lot of huge expenses and time-consumers for providers. Ultimately, we want to be the one-stop shop for research, collaboration and clinical data collection.”
What’s It? Cloud-based platform for health-care providers offering electronic record-keeping, streamlined workflow and collaborative opportunities
Brought To You By: Co-founders Chris Lonardo, Mitchell Fourman, Jean Ee Tang and Ish Bhalla – basically a hedge fund guy and three scientists
All In: $15,000, self-funded so far, with the money used for software development and to present data at a medical conference
Status: Beta version for web-based applications now live; mobile app coming soon