Launching OnPulse for Better Health Care Communications

Light flooded into the foyer atrium as I walked toward sofas and chairs collected into conversation areas near the glass wall.  It was strikingly less noisy than the exhibitor area and not as dark as the ballrooms.  A group of four individuals sat casually around a coffee table chatting. I first became aware of OnPulse, a healthcare communications company that uses innovative health information technologies to improve coördination of care in April while attending the TEDMED conference. There, I had the pleasure to speak with Corey Booker, MD and his associate David Armstrong.  When I saw that they were participating in the Health 2.0 Spring Fling: Matchpoint Boston conference, I reached out to set up an interview.

Once I approached the couches, it felt like I had just walked into an intimate gathering at the house of a friend.  The entire On Pulse team was warm and engaging.  Everyone was very excited. Two weeks earlier the organizers at Health2.0 selected OnPulse from a pool of more that 200 companies, as one of only ten finalists to compete in Launch! A conference event featuring back-to-back 3 1/2-minute live demonstrations of health information technology innovations (demo).  The reward for winning Launch! is the highly prized opportunity to demo on the center stage at the larger Health 2.0 conference in San Francisco this fall. This is a phenomenal chance for exposure to the leading health care leaders, investor, incubators and large health care payers and providers.

Like curious family members, the OnPulse team reluctantly relinquished the space so we could have an in-depth discussion. Booker is more than six feet tall, so he extended his legs as he settled into the corner of the couch to face me.  He is the consummate overachiever.  During his fellowship in Maternal and Fetal Medicine at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Booker has completed a masters in Clinical Informatics from Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business and founded OnPulse.

enBloom Media (EM): So Dr. Booker, we had the pleasure of meeting last month during the extravaganza that was TEDMED.  What were your impressions? What did you take away from that conference?
Corey Booker, MD (CB):  I met a lot of people and I saw a lot of great ideas.  But as you’ve heard investors and incubators acknowledge here at Health 2.0, it is extremely difficult for a group or individual to move from the idea phase to the start-up phase.  There is a lot of indecision in the healthcare right now. It is unfortunate.”
EM: What inspired you to come to Health 2.0?
CB: After talking with my advisorshe suggested that Health 2.0 with Matthew Holt leading would be a great place to join the conversation and develop some great relationships and that ultimately led me here.  We discovered we selected to participate in Launch!, the team came together and we decided we were ready. We decide to bring 4 people instead of 2 and really take advantage of all that Health 2.0 has to offer so we are exhibiting as well.  As a result, we also do a 10-minute demo during the break-out sessions.
EM: What inspired you to create this application?
CB:  The summer between my first and second year of medical school, I worked in Washington, DC for the National Committee for Quality Assuranceas a Health Policy Fellow.  It was there that I was first exposed to the communication gaps and the associated challenges with communicating efficiently among providers.  Once I became a resident and began managing my own patients, I found trying to connect with providers was a difficult reality of medical practice.  Finally, as a fellow I had one patient in particular who came to me with tears in her eyes, ” I thought you all were communicating.”  With all of the e-mails, faxes and telephone calls, our system and we as a team had failed this patient.
EM: So exactly what is OnPulse the product, not the company? Is it a Personal Health Record (PHR)?
CB:  It is a part of it. It not only allows the patient to contribute and give access to their healthrecords, but to receive information from the provider and keep it.  OnPulse is a secure online environment that works across platforms so you can use it from you office or home desktop computer, your smart phone, or tablet.  It allows medical practices to share vital information with patients and other providers in one unified, easily accessible place.  Providers invite their patient to create OnPulse profiles, that’s where the personal health record comes in.  Patients can consolidate all of their relevant medical information in one place.
OnPulse demos application at Health2.0 Matchpoint Boston 2012

The view seen by health care providers while using OnPulse. Image Source: http://www.onpulse.com

EM: So it sounds like OnPulse allows you to connect all your healthcare providers into a single team and the patient is actually included in that team.
CB: Absolutely, OnPulse through its design creates connected health teams with instant access around the clock, no matter what electronic medical record (EMR) a medical practice uses, or whether they’re at the office, at home, or on the road. The intent is to fill those existing gaps in the healthcare system we discussed earlier.  It works to improve communication and maximize collaboration between all members of the health care team. It allows providers in different organizations to communicate among one another about a mutual patient. They can choose to communicate amongst each other, just the patient and/or to everyone including the patient.
OnPulse demos application at Health2.0 Matchpoint Boston 2012

The view seen by a patient using OnPulse. Image Source: http://www.onpulse.com

EM: (Shifting gears, I let out a small laugh.) Well, OnPulse sounds like an innovative use of technology to improve physician-patient communication. At enBloom we really care about strategies for patient engagement as well as ways to improve health care for all. So this is the part of the interview where we get to the good stuff. Does OnPulse create patient engagement? How?
CB:  To some extent, patients and providers must already be motivated to participate in their health care. A key feature is the connected Resource Center.  As a physician, I can share educational material such as, favorite websites, research papers, patient education materials that I receive questions about all the time, images, research papers or other health education materials with a single patient or groups of patients and all their connected providers.  For example, a provider can use the Resource Center to disseminate health information across large groups of patients with the same disease of condition. This is also valuable in that it increases a patient’s access to information from a source they trust, their health care providers.  When a patient goes online to do research about a specific condition, they face the challenge of determining just how reliable a source it is.  When that same source comes from their physician, it means so much more. In my practice, so many calls that I receive are because my patient wants access to my knowledge, to information.  OnPulse helps any provider easily accomplish this.
EM: Does OnPulse address barriers to care? Does it do anything to alleviate health care disparities that we know exist in the system?
CB:  (Smiles and then sighs deeply.) These are complex social and cultural problems that health information technology alone cannot solve.  OnPluse doesn’t change people it connects them. in the right hands, it can go a long way to breaking down barriers to access.  First and foremost it allows busy providers and their staff to more easily follow through on communication with their patients and with one another.  Down the line, I could see On Pulse working with an organization like Health Leads which focuses on connecting patients with those social factors that provide barriers to patients receiving care or remaining compliant to their treatment regimes.
After concluding our interview, I proceeded with an afternoon full of presentations and fireside chats while the OnPulse team went about exhibiting to conference attendees.  Later on, I spoke with David Armstrong who brings his experience at Microsoft and as a venture capitalist to help OnPulse develop a unified strategy to meet its core mission during the delicate start-up phase of the company.
“Sometimes we will be here, and I can see Dr. Booker pulling us along trying to get us to where he is,” he says passionately while acting out a leader bringing along his team.  “Even though he has a wife and 5 children, he’s got so much energy. This is some of the most meaningful work I’ve done. So when Dr. Booker says let’s go, you just find the energy.”
Nick Mwaikambo closely guides the application design. He has an extensive background in web development, design and EMR.
“OnPulse [is] a solution that addresses a lot of the questions and shortcoming that my customers pointed out during my patient portal and EMR days,” he explains. After being the sounding board for so many complaints, “working here is a joy,” he continues.
When you combine Booker’s passion with the talent and enthusiasm of his team, their dedication to meeting the needs of the patient is palpable. This team is not mesmerized by technology for technology’s sake.  Real challenges in today’s healthcare system have directed the application’s design. Everyone has their own anecdotes of communication failure in the system, but there are studies to actually quantify these facts. Research results reported by Reuter’s Health indicate that 57% of patients leave the doctor’s office unaware of their diagnosis, 75% do not know what medications they are taking, and  90% are unaware of the side effect of those medications. In contrast, this team genuinely wants to improve communication around healthcare with the hope it will ultimately improve patients’ well being.

The following day, OnPulse gave an impressive demo during Launch! Members of the live audience each casted one vote for their favorite application. In the end, Thryve, a consumer facing online and mobile food tracker and coach came out ahead leaving OnPulse in a close second.  Yet, the potential of this application through adoption and growth remains promising.  I see it as the future centerpiece of a family of health information technology solutions including telemedicine, referrals to both specialty care and social service, and perhaps payer communications. If you add to that patient generated data from wellness and disease management applications, you just might have one (optimistic) view of the future of health. This applications does have competitors that are further along in development offering a wider array of services. Yet, I believe there is enough room in the market for a well designed solution like this one that works with any EMR.  Physicians and other providers can request an invitation to OnPulse now by visiting the website.  The rest of us should look for broader availability this summer and then request these services through our health care providers.
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