Ways to keep doctors' minds on high-level thinking

Kate MacArthur–(Chicago Blue Sky)–Dr. Lyle Berkowitz thinks he has a prescription for making doctors more efficient, productive and happy.  A Chicago-based primary-care physician, he is associate chief medical officer of innovation for Northwestern Medicine and medical director of IT and innovation for Northwestern Memorial Physicians Group in Chicago. In 2011, he co-founded and is chairman of Madison, Wis.-based healthcare IT startup Healthfinch Inc. He also wrote the 2012 book, “Innovation with Information Technologies in Healthcare.” He explains how he thinks doctors can work smarter.

Q. You argue that there isn’t a shortage of primary care doctors but rather a shortage of using them efficiently. Why?

A. In every other industry, we’ve figured out how to use information technology to properly automate or delegate. In healthcare, we haven’t reached that yet. We have a limited number of doctors, and they’re overworked. We make doctors do low-level work. For years, the whole image of the doctor has been of the hero, the one person who can know it all and do everything. That’s not the best use of the doctor’s time, because doctors aren’t great at doing assembly-line checklists over and over again. If we can computerize this idea of a checklist and protocol, we can appropriately take the low-level work off the doctor’s plate so he’ll have more time to focus on the high-level thinking that he’s been trained to do.

Q. That’s what you’re working on with Healthfinch?

A. RefillWizard is our first product. It solves a very specific pain point. Every day, a typical primary care physician has to deal with 10 to 20 drug refill requests. To properly assess those, it takes a minute or two to review the chart and decide whether or not, and how much, to refill the medication, easily taking 30 minutes a day of a doctor’s time. It is unreimbursed, assembly-line work. We estimate that the RefillWizard tool can help automate and delegate 80 percent of this work, saving the primary care doctor 20 to 30 minutes a day. Our software does this by combining the patient’s electronic medical record data with a cloud-based library of the doctor’s protocols, which tells their staff how to handle each refill. The result is a more consistent and efficient process, which saves time for physicians, staff and patients.

Q. What trends do you see driving healthcare innovation?

A. First are the new payment models. Right now, the system is volume-based, meaning the more procedures I do and the more patients I see, the more money I make. The future is value-based, meaning I’ll be paid to manage a population of people. Second is remote patient monitoring to check everything from blood pressure to activity to weight. Third is telemedicine to enable us to not have to do everything face to face. Fourth are expert systems that allow for automation coupled with team-based care that allow for delegation, and then the mobile revolution that lets us do this care everywhere. Those are going to promote and enable healthcare innovation, the likes of which we probably won’t see again in decades.

Q. What is your progress in clients, revenue and funding?

A. We’re still in the startup phase. Our first client was the Elmhurst Memorial Physicians group. RefillWizard is currently being used there to support over 100 physicians. We’re going live with four very large healthcare systems that represent more than 1,000 primary care physicians and $500,000 in recurring revenue that won’t be realized until 2014. We’ve been funded by Chicago Ventures Fund, Abundant Venture Partners, OCA Ventures, and a couple of angels. We’re over $1 million in funding to-date.