Eliminating the fax machine in healthcare. This is the foundational mission for LeadingReach, and a major issue for all healthcare organizations. The fax machine was patented in 1843 along with the telegraph and yet, it is still the primary method for patient referrals and remains one of the most outdated workflows across any industry. Not only is fax-based communication not fully secure, but it has a high failure rate and ultimately leads to the anemic 50% conversion rate for appointment referrals. It is time for us to choose a better way. Users on the LeadingReach Network can see upwards of 95% referral to appointment (RTA) conversion rates, and equally important, providers have an open communication channel with anyone on the network which provides 100% accountability for everyone involved. You can’t manage what you can’t measure and faxing with the “hope” that patients will get the care they need is unacceptable in 2020. As the industry shifts focus to increasing quality and reducing costs under value-based care models, fixing the transition of care is a critical objective. We believe this is foundational for the future of healthcare.
As a part of my interview series with leaders in healthcare, I had the pleasure to interview Curtis Gattis, Co-Founder and CEO of LeadingReach, one of the largest healthcare communication networks in the United States. Founded in 2014, LeadingReach has bootstrapped its way to success and proven out its solutions to critical industry challenges such as interoperability and care coordination in the era of value-based care. With 20 years of experience conceptualizing new products, bringing them to market and scaling software companies, Curtis brings a unique perspective to the healthcare industry.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Like many people, I had a non-linear path to my current role as Co-Founder and CEO of a healthcare technology company. Most of my career was spent in sales and sales management at venture-backed, high-growth technology companies outside of the healthcare space. Around 2009, I began looking for a new challenge — specifically, I wanted to build a sustainable company founded on a unique, innovative business model to deliver something of great value to customers.
That’s when I stumbled on a creative agency in Texas that was incubating a live-event engagement technology for conferences and tradeshows. After joining the agency, a chance conversation with one of our clients opened our eyes to the ways in which the technology could benefit the healthcare space to improve communication with patients and providers — and thus LeadingReach as it is today, was born.
As someone with no healthcare background, if you told me 10 years ago what I’d be doing today I would have thought you were crazy. I had no idea how complex and difficult the challenges in the healthcare space are to solve, nor how much of an opportunity we had to truly improve people’s lives and make an overall impact on the communities they live in.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
The day my co-founder, Clint Smith, came to me and said “Curtis, it’s time for us to eliminate the fax machine from healthcare,” stands out as a very pivotal and inspiring moment. That was the day we decided to focus on improving patient referrals and digitizing care transitions, and it changed our lives forever. The core of our technology was — and still is — based on improving communication with patients before, during and after their care. To this day, we still have several patient engagement modules in our suite of products — but we realized how important streamlining communication between providers actually was and how critical providing “accountable communication” is for the future state of healthcare.
The “ah ha” moment came when Clint was sitting down with a brilliant primary care provider (PCP) in our hometown of Austin, Texas. The PCP said “Clint, your Patient Engagement products are great, but if you want to solve the real problem in healthcare — it’s that fax machine in the corner.” This doctor was trying to build out the first accountable care organization (ACO) in Central Texas but was running up against a critical challenge — his providers and staff had no idea where their patients ended up once they left the office. “My providers spend an inordinate amount of time chasing down patient updates from specialists,” he explained, “because we’re all using different electronic medical record platforms and can’t easily share information digitally.”
The workaround to this challenge for most providers is the fax machine, but no matter how skilled a physician is, it’s simply not possible to effectively coordinate and communicate about patient care using this outdated and inefficient piece of technology. Our patients and physicians deserve better than this when tasked with something as important as health. Our country and our communities deserve better than this because they are being crippled by ever-increasing healthcare costs. From that casual conversation about one customer’s pain points, our nationwide referral network of over 27,000 healthcare organizations was born.
What makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
First and foremost, I think it is our desire to bootstrap the business and grow the company without taking any institutional capital to date that really sets us apart. This business model can be more difficult at times, but it gives us the freedom to listen solely to our customers and remain focused on meeting their specific needs, without being beholden to expectations or requirements from external stakeholders.
Additionally, I think our approach to solving healthcare’s challenges is different than other companies. A lot of HIT giants have tried to fix healthcare on a macro level, focusing on the EHR and connecting existing technologies using complex and convoluted APIs and integrations. However, our solution was more like LinkedIn or Facebook- approaching healthcare as a community that needed to be connected. To do this, we’ve transformed LeadingReach into a communication platform for anyone and everyone responsible for helping patients get the care they need. True healthcare change happens locally and requires connection, coordination and communication. We have intentionally worked very closely with our customers to provide them with a solution that works today and helps drive the necessary changes we will all benefit from tomorrow. We have new ACOs tapping into the LeadingReach Network with great frequency, and as with any network effect model, society is able to extract exponential value with every incremental participant on the network.
Another piece that I’m particularly proud of is our company culture. Having a passionate, high-performing work culture is a pillar of our business, and I believe it is one of the key aspects that makes us unique. Personally, I am obsessed with Formula 1 racing, and I’ve drawn many similarities between building a successful Formula 1 team and a disruptive technology company. Every day we preach to our team about the “art of the pit-stop.” Did you know, in theory, an F1 pit stop could be performed in roughly 1.76 seconds if perfectly executed by all 17 team members? The current world record was just set by Red Bull Racing a few weeks ago, where they clocked in at 1.82 seconds. The point here is that there is always room to improve our performance. When you combine a high-performance culture with a group of individuals who truly care for each other and are on a mission to improve millions of patients’ lives, it makes for a very special place to come to work every day.
The last thing I want to note is the positive impact we are having on the healthcare industry. As a company, we see the direct result of our work in people’s lives, and it’s not just improving access to care — we are also helping providers to transform their healthcare practice by providing them with the tools they need to ditch the fax machine and enable true value-based care.
Can you share with our readers about the innovations that you are bringing to and/or see in the healthcare industry? How do you envision that this might disrupt the status quo? Which “pain point” is this trying to address?
Fortunately for us, the LeadingReach value proposition is very easy to understand. We are replacing the use of the fax machine in care transitions, which still accounts for around 75% of all medical communication today. This allows providers to have complete visibility into their patient’s care journey. It’s crazy to think about, but currently, when a primary care provider wonders, “Has my patient followed through to book an appointment with the specialist I referred them to?” and “What was the outcome of that appointment?” the answer is usually “I don’t know, and there isn’t an easy way for me to find out.”
Typically, PCPs give their patient a specialists’ business card and tell them the specialist’s office will call to book an appointment once they receive the patient’s medical records via fax. Most of the time, however, this process doesn’t go as planned. We’ve all been there, when you or someone you love has been told they need to see a specialist for additional care, but don’t fully understand when, where, why and how much it will cost. The easiest path is to blow off the appointment, especially if they don’t understand the reasons why they may have been referred. Add an unreliable fax machine into the mix and this is where we see a massive breakdown in the patient journey — in fact, an astounding 50% of referral appointments never takes place.
Rather than manually “faxing and forgetting,” users on the LeadingReach Network can track their patients through their care journey and communicate with the specialist’s office in real-time. Our platform can also help providers determine if a specialist is in a patient’s network, resulting in a much lower cost of care and improved patient experiences. For employers and value-based care providers, this helps them ensure their patients are getting the care they need at the highest quality and for the lowest cost. For specialists, it enables more streamlined care coordination and creates a foundation to better manage their business. Lastly, for patients, it creates a functioning health system that is much better equipped to provide them with the highest quality of care at the lowest cost.
You are a “healthcare insider”. Can you share 5 changes that need to be made to improve the overall US healthcare system? Please share a story or example for each.
- Eliminating the fax machine in healthcare. This is the foundational mission for LeadingReach, and a major issue for all healthcare organizations. The fax machine was patented in 1843 along with the telegraph and yet, it is still the primary method for patient referrals and remains one of the most outdated workflows across any industry. Not only is fax-based communication not fully secure, but it has a high failure rate and ultimately leads to the anemic 50% conversion rate for appointment referrals. It is time for us to choose a better way. Users on the LeadingReach Network can see upwards of 95% referral to appointment (RTA) conversion rates, and equally important, providers have an open communication channel with anyone on the network which provides 100% for everyone involved. You can’t manage what you can’t measure and faxing with the “hope” that patients will get the care they need is unacceptable in 2020. As the industry shifts focus to increasing quality and reducing costs under value-based care models, fixing the transition of care is a critical objective. We believe this is foundational for the future of healthcare.
- Tackling interoperability and making it easy to coordinate care. We must empower healthcare teams to communicate more effectively and share information seamlessly. EHRs make this very difficult. There are hundreds of different systems out there, all of which are challenging to work with in their own unique way. There’s space for a separate technology that makes real-time communication and care coordination possible for everyone, regardless of their HIT infrastructure. Providers and front-office staff need a more nimble, simple way to communicate with specialists and to integrate all necessary patient information in one place. Once digital connections are made on the LeadingReach Network, accountability is established for both sides of the referral and for the patient. Then, when a digital referral takes place, there is an expectation that the patient will be contacted, and the results of their interaction will be reported. This level of accountability has never existed before and is crucial for achieving coordinated care. This makes it much easier to transition patients and ensures that the outcomes and next steps of that appointment are shared back with the PCP’s office, so every aspect of patient care is accounted for. There are millions of referrals per year on the LeadingReach Network and each one has an average of six additional communications through the platform, all of which are time stamped and dated. LeadingReach users never have to think or say, “I didn’t get that fax, would you please resend it?”
- Giving power back to the PCPs. Numerous studies have touted the benefits of patients having a relationship with a primary care provider, including higher quality and longer lifespans. Beyond that, ACOs are proving that PCPs can successfully reduce costs. LeadingReach has empowered PCPs, clinically integrated networks (CINs) and health systems to gain full visibility into their patient’s healthcare journey — from referral to appointment and back with results. Time is the enemy in the referral process and LeadingReach provides a digital stopwatch for every transition of care. Our clients can now track throughput metrics and have more meaningful conversations about how well both sides are doing with regards to shepherding patients through their care journey.
- Holding providers accountable for care transitions. When it comes to converting patient referrals to appointments, provider accountability is the foundation for excellent care coordination. Fortunately, there is regulation in place that supports LeadingReach’s mission and technology in this area. CMS has included transition of care metrics in their scoring for MIPS/MACRA and encourages the use of digital referrals due to their greater ability to close the loop on patient care transitions. This reporting requirement enables a new level of provider accountability, which leads to more patients getting the care they need in a timely manner. As a result, we empower a healthier population and reduced costs for all.
- Controlling costs by ensuring appropriate care settings. Costs of care can spiral out of control when patients receive care from an out-of-network provider that isn’t covered by their insurance. A visit to the wrong imaging center or a procedure done by the wrong physician can mean tens-of-thousands of dollars of completely preventable costs. Unfortunately, this scenario happens every day, and because hospitals, surgery centers and providers themselves can benefit from these higher payouts, they aren’t motivated to change the status quo. As we head into 2020, we are addressing this head-on by providing a mechanism to ensure patients get the right care, from the right provider, in the right setting. When the entire care team can see what’s best for the patient, costs can be drastically reduced by simply doing a better job of providing thoughtful, coordinated patient referrals.
Thank you! It’s great to suggest changes, but what specific steps would need to be taken to implement your ideas? What can individuals, corporations, communities and leaders do to help?
Corporations must make the health of their employees a priority and figure out how to incorporate that into their culture. Employer-based insurance in the U.S. is the most common, covering 55.1% of the population. The increasing costs of providing insurance for employees is a big issue, and it erodes company profits and reduces the ability to innovate, hire and grow. If corporations take steps to promote healthier lifestyles for their employees, they can help reduce costs of coverage and positively impact their employees. A win-win!
For communities and leaders, we must continue talking about how healthcare is delivered in our society. Studies have shown that your zip code can have a huge impact on your life expectancy — for example, Chicago leads the country with a life expectancy gap of 30 years. From exposure to air pollution to accessibility of healthy food and medical care, where you live directly affects your health in several ways. These studies are also a more subtle indicator of socioeconomic factors that are inherent to health and longevity, including race and income.
It’s in everyone’s best interest for communities and leaders to keep these conversations about maintaining healthy populations top-of-mind. It is projected that healthcare spending will consume 20% of the GDP by 2026, diverting money away from education, infrastructure and other vital investments. Healthy populations are the foundation of successful communities, and we cannot allow our health system to continue to spiral out of control.
There is so much to be done communally to address this problem, starting with awareness. I truly believe healthcare happens locally and change needs to be addressed at this level to be successful. We all need to be a part of the solution and as leaders in our companies and communities, we can and should do everything we can to engage our fellow citizens and fight for change.
What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a better healthcare leader? Can you explain why you like them?
One of the best books I have read is “Where Does it Hurt” by Jonathan Bush. It is a great educational tool for an entrepreneur like me who didn’t come from a healthcare background, and it is a very inspiring and insightful read.
My two favorite podcasts are Oprah’s “SuperSoul Conversations” and Guy Roz’s “How I Built This,” which I listen to mainly to learn from others about life and business. Everyone has a unique journey on this planet, but we can always gain valuable insights from those who have come before us. These two podcasts continue to inspire and educate me every week.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!