In 2011, Kevin MacDonald saw an opportunity.
Talking to a friend’s wife, a pharmacist, he learned that she spent her days doing “crash cart duty.” What that required her to do was pick up vial after vial of medication in the hospital pharmacy and look at the expiration dates. Two immediate thoughts came to his head.
“One, there’s no reason that a highly trained, highly-paid professional like this should be doing such manual tasks. It’s error-prone and it’s below what they were trained to do. And two, there’s a huge opportunity for improving the process with technology. There’s an opportunity to make things safer and more efficient,” says MacDonald, who went on to start Kit Check, which automates medication management for hospital pharmacies using RFID technology.
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In its short history, Kit Check boasts more than 400 hospital customers and the tracking of more than 40 million medications. Chief Executive spoke to MacDonald about how technology can help tackle the opioid epidemic, how his business philosophy has changed as the company has grown, and more. Below are excerpts from this conversation.
Why do hospitals need to automate medication management?
Hospitals, strangely enough, have a whole lot of medications but they just frankly don’t know where they are. And you know, if you look at your average operating room, at least 30% of the drugs that go into the OR are basically unaccounted for on the patients’ record. And you know, that causes all sorts of issues around billing the patients properly, but also patient safety wise.
The opioid epidemic is being tackled by all areas of the healthcare industry, hospitals, pharmacy, insurance, tech companies. What’s tech’s role in combating this epidemic?
We had always looked at the tracking of medications and we started hearing from all of our customers that, ”Hey, there’s this opioid crisis problem.” And you know, frankly what you hear a lot in the news is about people that are in the communities, who are patients rather than providers. And it turns out that actually, a large percentage of nurses and anesthesia providers and pharmacists are using opioids themselves and [are] diverting them.
We feel like we can play an important role there since we have so much information about where these drugs are moving and who’s using that. We can apply machine learning and AI concepts to actually figure out, where are there unusual patterns? And that has proven to be successful in a number of our hospitals and detecting who is diverting drugs in the hospital. And how do I get to those people before they become a patient safety concern? So, it’s been that an unsung part of the opioid crisis, which is inside the hospital, which causes problems for the people that are diverting themselves, but also for the patients that they’re treating.
What’d you say are the big challenges the healthcare industry is facing and kind of your role in dealing with those challenges?
The healthcare industry, at the highest level, is facing a crunch in cost. Right? So, hospitals are merging, they’ve spent a lot on capital. They’re working in a very cost constrained environment of how do they treat more patients and provide better outcomes for less dollars. And the only way you can do that is by starting with getting visibility to what’s going on and then managing that. You can only manage what you measure.
So, once you’ve measured what are you using, I can then manage that down. And if you look at the drugs in the hospital, they’re the largest individual operating expense that’s non-staff related in the hospital. And we’re helping the hospital get better control over that large operational expense
Interviewer: Let me ask you this, hospitals spent a great deal of money investing in EHRs, and a lot of them weren’t, I would say overly satisfied with that. And oftentimes, when you invest in technology and in healthcare, there’s not a level of satisfaction and RIO that they might want. So, from your perspective, what do you do to convince these hospital CEOs and tech leaders that, you know, this is something that they need and it will be worth it?
How has your leadership style evolved over the course of your career to where you are today?
I’ve learned a lot from people around me in different areas. Learning both good and bad in terms of what works and what doesn’t in terms of dealing with other people and other partners. I’ve certainly learned a lot from the customers as well. If you listen really hard, they don’t always tell you in the most direct way how to solve things. But they’re certainly good at telling you their pain to the extent that you can surround yourself with folks who help you elicit what that customer is telling you.
We’ve evolved and grown a lot since it was just me and my co-founder. And a lot of the change comes down to how far ahead you’re thinking. You always want to have that big end goal in mind. But that timeframe and then what you’re able to execute and plan on increases as you grow with scale. So whereas, at the very beginning it’s like, can we just get one more hospital customer? And now we’re, thinking out we have 24 months in terms of how can we get the next product out. What are the sort of bigger things that we’re going to accomplish? And that has downstream effects—such as how you coach and motivate the team.
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