By Yvonne Tevis. Imagine you’re presenting your tech solution at a conference. You start to hear a buzz in the room. People are standing up, taking pictures of your slides. Everyone’s asking how they can get your product.
A daydream? Well, a few years ago at the United Health Care Conference, it happened to Curtis Hendrick, director of client services and innovation for UCI Health.
Hendrick was showcasing a technology built for UCI Health to track patient flow in the clinics. But it wasn’t available for others to use. Daunted by the instant demand, he went to UCI’s Center for Applied Innovation for business guidance. The center connects campus innovators with entrepreneurs in Orange County and gives them access to office space and technology in the COVE.
There he met Jeff Greenberg, a self-described “serial entrepreneur” who joined the COVE as one of its first experts-in-residence. The timing was perfect, Greenberg said, “I was a business executive looking for a technology to commercialize, and Hendrick had a technology and was looking for a business to run it.”
A company is born
And that was the beginning of OpsGuru, the company that Greenberg founded in 2017 as CEO to license and commercialize the software Hendrick’s team had developed. Of course, the story started much earlier than that…
UCI Health had approached IT with a problem a few years back. Patients were spending too much time waiting to be seen, exam rooms sat empty, and frequently there weren’t enough doctors to handle the patient volume. This was unsatisfactory for everyone and costly for the hospital. They needed to improve patient flow.
Hendrick said the first attempt was to follow patients around with an iPad to get data about clinic traffic. “This was not very enjoyable for the patients,” he said, “and data collection was slow.”
Then came the “aha!” moment. His team realized there were computers already in every exam room. They could develop software to install on existing equipment and so track patient and provider movement through the clinic. The resulting data would show when a room sits empty, when a patient has been waiting too long, and where to send a doctor next.
In essence, the software helps the clinic “minimize the time needed to ‘cycle’ patients,” Greenberg said. “Every minute a patient is in an exam room waiting, that exam room is not generating revenue.” With OpsGuru, the clinic can track trends over time and make longer-term schedule changes, optimizing use of the facilities and doctors’ time, and increasing patient satisfaction.
Stats and awards
Greenberg explained that health care runs on very tight cost margins, and the improvements UCI Health has seen with OpsGuru – implemented now in most of its clinics – are significant:
- Patient cycle time decreased by 32%
- Patient satisfaction increased from 88% to 90%
- Facilities utilization increased from 31% to 47%
Such results led to OpsGuru winning top honor in the 2016 Quality Leaders Awards from the California Association of Public Hospitals and Health Systems. All of which only spurs more interest. “But UCI is not a software sales company,” Hendricks said. “We figured we were best off licensing it to another company, and having that company take it to market.”
What’s next, now that OpsGuru has been formed? “Productize the system, build the team, raise the capital, and do sales calls to health care providers who have seen it,” Greenberg said.
An IT innovation future
The OpsGuru story is one Greenberg believes the UC IT function can replicate by encouraging innovation, risk taking, and learning to focus on customer value. Interest in OpsGuru was immediately intense, he said, “because the problem they solved for UCI was such a common problem. That is the route for most successful startups.”
Hendrick agreed that understanding customer value is critical. His team frequently demonstrated their work in progress to the stakeholders, which helped them focus not on cool technological tricks, but on solving the problem. “We scrapped a lot of things,” he said, “that didn’t derive any value for them.”
Of course, innovation has intrinsic rewards – the thrill of creating. And, Hendrick and Greenberg noted, when you invent a product at UC, the university keeps the rights – but the inventor gets some royalties!