Hacking Health, DMI Hope to Strengthen Detroit’s Health IT Ecosystem
Detroit-area clinicians, healthcare organizations, health IT startups, and others are gathering at the University of Windsor in Ontario Friday for the second annual Hacking Health event, which is designed to break down barriers and inspire innovative collaborations between the health-tech ecosystems on both sides of the Detroit River.
WEtech Alliance, TechTown Detroit, and the EPICentre are co-sponsoring the health IT hackathon, and TechTown’s Paul Riser Jr. said the event has grown to include new attendees as well as three-dozen returning industry partners. Hacking Health’s participants form teams to conceptualize, design, and build mobile apps and IT products for the healthcare sector. Last year, more than 35 ideas were pitched and over $30,000 in prizes were awarded. (We’ll introduce you to one Detroit-based health IT startup making waves below.)
“One of the best parts of Hacking Health is seeing entrepreneurs, practitioners, and students from Windsor and Detroit collaborating on solutions that hold real promise for the future of healthcare,” Riser said. “The goal is to build an international, interdisciplinary healthcare IT community.”
The total North American healthcare market is growing by 7.4 percent and is expected to reach $31.3 billion by next year, according to a 2013 report on marketsandmarkets.com. Because of the Affordable Care Act and other systemic reforms requiring more care processes to become digitized, health IT is expected to be a public health investment priority on both sides of the border—Canada’s government already spends far more than the U.S. on healthcare—for the next 10 years. The Motor City, with some of the best hospitals in the state along with myriad physicians trained at or attached to Wayne State University, is poised to be a hub for healthcare innovations in the region.
One healthcare IT startup currently incubating at TechTown is Detroit Medical Informatics (DMI), a peer-to-peer consultancy that sends doctors out to hospitals and other clinical settings to train the physicians there on how to use electronic health record (EHR) systems.
Founded by a doctor named Hass Saad, DMI is on a mission to contribute to the future of medicine by ensuring that doctors get the most out of the new technologies EHRs bring. “DMI breaks down the language barrier between medicine and technology,” Saad said. “It’s a huge shift going from paper to digital—it’s a change in the way doctors practice and, unfortunately, a lot of them are hesitant to change. You have pioneers in the field practicing for 30 or 40 years and now, suddenly, because of EHR, there’s a change in the way they care for patients.”
Depending on the size of the project, DMI will send roughly 10 to 20 doctors out on a project to train physicians on how to use the EHR system, which can also be customized according to the way the clinician likes to manage workflow. Saad said doctors are already being mandated by government or employer initiatives to start implementing EHR systems, and DMI can help them maximize efficiency.
“When the EHR is understood and adopted properly, it works very well,” Saad explained. “But if the physician end-users are not educated properly, any delay in executing an order [because of technical blunders] can delay patient care. At DMI, we’re physicians first, but we also understand the technology because we use it. We’re bilingual, essentially. We’re able to serve as the liaison and produce results that make doctors more productive.”
Saad said DMI focuses on the Epic and Cerner platforms because they’re the most widely used. (DMC, where Saad did his clinical rotations as a medical student, is a Cerner flagship hospital.) “When we started, we saw doctors that were unfamiliar with EHR systems prescribe a lethal dose of medication not realizing that they were doing it wrong,” he said. “That’s why we’re so focused on hiring people with a clinical background.”
Helping veteran doctors remain in the business is part of what made Saad want to start the company to begin with. He’s the son of a Lebanese immigrant that Saad calls “your typical American Dream success story.” A few decades ago, Saad’s father traveled to Dearborn, MI, in search of manufacturing jobs and sometimes had to sleep on park benches upon arrival in the U.S. His dad eventually went on to open a successful business and brought the rest of his family over to Michigan.
Saad said because of his father’s tough climb to financial security, the value of education was constantly reinforced at home. (Those lectures must have paid off, because three out of the five Saad children became doctors and all of them have at least a Master’s degree.) Saad realized that being a doctor would allow him to do some good in the world, but DMI would potentially enable him to make a bigger contribution to the field.
“I was at a crossroad,” he recalled. “I asked myself, how am I going to contribute to medicine? What is my journey? Will practicing be as much of a contribution as going full force with DMI? I decided to go full force because, ultimately, it’s a better use of my knowledge.”
While at DMC, Saad was recruited to help other hospitals adopt Cerner. As one of the only people on the Cerner training team to have a clinical background, he said he was the busiest person there. “Everyone wanted to work with me,” he added.
That gave him the idea to approach EHR training as a physician-to-physician conversation. Today, DMI works with TechTown and local hospital residency programs to recruit young, tech-savvy doctors to join the team, and once the doctors are screened, they’re added to the company roster. (DMI calls on them to work according to project length and technical expertise required.) Saad said he’s currently got doctors in all 50 states.
The two-person DMI team has bootstrapped the company so far, and Saad said he plans to continue that way for the foreseeable future. In 2016, DMI will recruit more employees through a partnership with the residency program at the University of Maryland hospital, expand international efforts, and hopes to score business related to the U.S. Department of Defense hospital system’s decision to change over to Cerner, a process that Saad predicted will take three to five years. With hospitals investing hundreds of millions in EHR systems, Saad sees DMI as having a vital role in the adoption of those technologies.
“The Hippocratic Oath says, ‘If I don’t know something, I will seek out colleagues.’ Just like doctors consult on patients, we consult on health IT,” he said. “We’re a trusted colleague and partner. The idea is to advance patient care and move medicine forward.”