Curaspan Undergoes Big Expansion as Demand for Patient-Transition Software Grows

Curaspan Health Group set out 11 years ago to pursue founder and CEO Tom Ferry’s idea that there had to be a better way than the long, paper- and people-intensive process traditionally required to transition patients from hospitals to their post-acute care facilities or elsewhere. Now the Newton, MA-based firm is enjoying a period of rapid expansion as demand for its software grows.

Curaspan, which launched its first software product for automating patient discharges at hospitals in 2000, now has 354 hospitals and 2,573 nursing homes and other post-acute care facilities using its Web-based software. And Ferry has ambitious plans for still more growth. Having already doubled Curaspan’s staff to 60 workers this year, he expects that number to reach 120 next year, he says.

The healthcare market is a notoriously tough nut to crack for technology startups, and it’s a big achievement for Curaspan to have cleared many of the technology adoption hurdles that have proven too high for others. To get new products into hospitals, technology firms typically need to provide something of high value that can be integrated with the existing IT systems without too much hassle. Curaspan’s Web-based software appears to fill both those requirements; it’s delivered to users over the Internet, so hospitals don’t have to worry about installing it on their own servers and maintaining the software along with a hospital’s existing clinical applications.

“It’s clear that healthcare is not a rapidly adopting industry; adoption moves at a glacial pace, unfortunately,” Ferry says. “But for us it’s an advantage because we’ve now reached critical mass and are starting to see exponential growth.”

When it comes time for a patient to leave the hospital, there’s typically a series of paper forms that need to be filled out before he or she leaves the building. Ferry said the paper-based discharge process can take anywhere from half a day to a full day because of the time needed to fill out all the various forms and to coordinate the patient’s next move to his or her home or to a care facility such as a nursing home or rehab center. Curaspan’s eDischarge software nixes the need for many of the paper forms and can reduce the time required to discharge a patient from the hospital to less than an hour, Ferry says.

Curaspan has an additional application to manage the transportation of patients to and from various care facilities. Another app helps post-acute care centers manage patient referrals. The common theme among all the company’s apps is automating and relieving bottlenecks in patient transitions. To hear Ferry tell it, his firm’s software saves hospitals money by reducing the duration of a patient’s stay, allowing more time for staff to provide care, and limiting hospital readmissions. (A Boston Globe article on June 21 about hospital readmissions pointed to lack of coordination among various healthcare providers as a leading cause of the problem.)

Ferry got the original idea behind his firm’s technology after his family found it difficult to manage the transition of his wife’s grandmother, Edna May Dodd, from a hospital to an appropriate nursing home after she had suffered a broken hip. For instance, his family had a hard time finding a nursing home that was well suited to the grandmother’s specific needs. Now, his company’s software features algorithms that steer patients to the best nursing home or other care facility, based on their geographic preferences and level of care needed, among other variables.

Initially, Ferry envisioned a “Travelocity for healthcare” to make it easy to plot a patient’s travels among places where he or she receives care, he says. In his research, the Harvard Business School graduate learned that the greatest area of need was for a patient discharge application. The company he formed to tackle this problem first released such a program 10 years ago. And he’s managed to build the company primarily with investments from family members, friends, and angels.

Ten years later, Ferry says, about 10 percent to 15 percent of U.S. hospitals are using some form of patient discharge software. This low percentage means Curaspan has the opportunity to sell its software to thousands of hospitals. And though the CEO says that there is no other software vendor whose products provide the same features as his firm’s, it appears that Curaspan might bump into others that address certain parts of patient transitions such as Alpharetta, GA-based Patient Placement Systems.

In a way, Curaspan’s greatest competition might come from the major hospital IT system providers. Ferry says such companies (he didn’t name names) will sometimes tell their hospital customers that they can use applications in their existing systems or add something such as a fax server to improve patient discharges and transfers, he said. Yet those fixes to the discharge and patient transfer processes fall short of the results that Curaspan’s applications provide, he says.

Curaspan has been around long enough to see how its software stacks up against what Ferry called “stop gaps” offered by competitors. “Eventually we’re going to be able to go in and say that we’ve reduced your readmissions by 2 to 3 percent, which may have saved you $3 million to $5 million. Were you able to achieve those same results with your [existing technology]? I don’t think so.”

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