When medical school students are training to become doctors, they’re focused on their specialty and the day-to-day grind of training. In all likelihood, they’re not thinking about creating a company that aims to solve a complex problem in the siloed American health system.
But Dr. Lissy Hu was not the typical medical student during her years at Harvard Medical School. She wasn’t just thinking medicine while she was there; she was thinking business too.
Hu was enrolled in a joint medical school/MBA program at Harvard. More impressively than that, she started CarePort Health while getting those two degrees. Based in Boston, CarePort offers a software platform that connects different areas of the health system, ensuring patients have a better transition of care from one setting to another.
“I had always been really interested in the delivery of healthcare, and how hospitals are working together with physicians and nursing homes, and really sort of across the continuum how sort of those relationships and care coordination are really being done,” Hu says. She notes, patients have never been able to bridge post-acute care (nursing homes, hospice care) with what happens in the hospital or physician’s office.
With the health system increasingly paying providers based on quality of care, rather than volume of care — coordinating care between these disparate areas has become a critical need. Hu laments that we live in an age where all the information you could ever need about a restaurant or a hotel halfway around the world is at your fingertips, but all you get for a nursing home where you’re sending your parents is a phone number and a zip code.
Hu created a proposal for the idea that would become the CarePort platform into the Business Plan Competition at Harvard. She won enough money to launch a pilot, which she was able to test with a hospital. From there, she raised venture and angel funding and the company. CarePort Health was officially born.
Instead of having to peruse a list of nursing home names and zip codes, CarePort has built a search engine that helps patients and care coordinators (who are typically nurses in the patient’s health system) make a decision on where to go based on quality of care, insurance, and other metrics of need.
Once the patient is in the nursing home, CarePort’s technology connects the patient’s clinical record there with what’s been documented in the hospital/physician electronic health record. This way everyone is on the same page. From there, the CarePort system can analyze data looking at the outcomes patients are getting during this transition of care.
“There’s no person that is an expert on sales, on marketing, on operations, on development, right? You have to build a team of people that are smarter than you and better than you, and that’s the only way that you’re going grow and be successful.”
As CEO, Hu has a unique perspective to run CarePort Health thanks to her training as an MD. Not only does it give her a deep understanding of the issues facing the patient, but doctors and nurses as well.
“Because to address a problem like improving post-acute care, you can’t just do it in a piecemeal way, right? You can’t just plug a hole in one area, and then another leak kind of springs up in another area of your boat. You really have to think about the problem holistically,” she says.
In 2016, Allscripts, a Chicago-based health software company, acquired CarePort Health. Hu says the company still is independently operated, but under the Allscripts umbrella. When the decision came, Hu says it was hard for her to weigh the pros and cons of making the deal.
“As a founder, you’re so personally invested in your company that it’s hard to think about it just as a business, right? It’s your baby in many ways. And for me, you know, what I was trying to really [weighing] was [that] I didn’t want to leave medicine just to get acquired and then have my product shelved and never used again.”
Allscripts worked out a nice deal where the larger company could help CarePort scale its product more quickly, while using the software as part of its overall “care management” lineup of services. She says she’s been thrilled about the way the acquisition has gone. “[They have] been true to their word in making sure that we still have operational independence, which isn’t to say we don’t [use their] leverage where it makes sense, because we do,” she notes.
Hu confesses there has been a bit of luck with how it’s worked out because she didn’t really think about the cultural fit between Allscripts and CarePort. “I probably should have thought more about [it],” she admits. Luckily, the two companies have blended well together, she says.
The American healthcare system is complicated and ever changing, and the health IT marketplace has continued to explode in growth, with estimates suggesting it will be worth $280 billion globally in 2021. Hu welcomes these challenges but acknowledges in order to succeed in this space, “you have to be passionate about what you do.” Being the CEO of CarePort isn’t a job, she says, it’s a mission.
The other advice she has for young entrepreneurs and CEOs following in her footsteps is to ensure they’re building a solid team around them. “There’s no person that is an expert on sales, on marketing, on operations, on development, right? You have to build a team of people that are smarter than you and better than you, and that’s the only way that you’re going grow and be successful,” she says.
“People always talk about how the CEO is sort of alone at the top, and I think that’s the wrong analogy. I think the analogy is that as the CEO really have to be great at bringing people in and building that team, not to execute on your vision, but to execute on what becomes really your shared vision. And everyone contributes to part of that vision, and pushes the company forward.”