Having spent her pre-Wharton days as a practicing physician, Divya has had it with the pager. They’re time consuming, expensive, and should have no place in 21st century healthcare. Outdated technologies like pagers are said to cost the average US hospital over $10 million each year, with the average doctor losing more than 45 minutes of daily productivity just waiting for information on patients to flow through those antiquated pieces of plastic.
A few months into the Wharton MBA, Divya Dhar (WG’14, HKS ’13) teamed up with classmate Lane Rettig (WG’14) on a mission to finally end all pagers in the hospital setting. Now part of DreamIt Health’s first batch of incubated startups, Seratis is a HIPAA-compliant patient-centric mobile communication app that leverages smartphone capabilities to enable healthcare providers to coordinate, track and analyze patient data. Shortly after Seratis bagged Penn Medicine as the app’s first alpha user, we sat down with founders Divya and Lane to learn more.
Wharton Journal: Tell us how Seratis got started at Wharton.
Lane Rettig: We both arrived at Wharton wanting to start a company. We met through a series of healthcare-focused brainstorming sessions that Divya organized in late 2012. Divya had identified a specific pain point while practicing medicine, which Seratis directly addresses. I was industry agnostic but was blown away by Divya’s vision and excitement about the idea. We decided to apply to DreamIt together with the idea and the rest is history!
WJ: How is Seratis different from startups like Cureatr and Voalte who are similarly taking advantage of the BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) trend among doctors to provide improved hospital communication systems?
DD: Two major differences. We are patient centric, all our communication is tagged to a patient and anyone looking after a patient can view it even if they aren’t the recipient. This ensures coordination to a higher degree and is best for complex care settings such as academic medical centers. We are also data driven, and provide new actionable clinical insights based on capturing real time communication data, such as “an infection breakout in ward 8.”
LR: Furthermore, Cureatr and Voalte are more mainstream, traditional healthcare companies. This makes sense because healthcare providers are naturally very risk-averse, which is one reason there has been so little innovation in healthcare. We are applying lean startup principles to healthcare, trying some radical new ideas, while balancing this against the ever-present safety and security requirements.
WJ: Seratis is part of the first batch of startups that are in the DreamIt Health program. How has DreamIt been helpful in your startup process?
DD: DreamIt has been paramount in helping us engage with doctors, nurses and other health professionals at Penn Medicine and Independence Blue Cross. This helped us validate our idea. DreamIT also helped us build relationships with potential investors that we are still exploring.
LR: For me the biggest value-add was the opportunity to work among a community of like-minded entrepreneurs for four months. It is an extraordinarily distinguished group of individuals, not only because of their previous accomplishments but in particular because of their vision and energy. I learned a great deal from this group and we will continue to support one another on our quest to improve healthcare.
WJ: Talk to us about opportunities in healthcare IT that get you pumped up about the space.
DD: Healthcare is one of the last industries left with low hanging fruit in IT infrastructure. There are opportunities in almost every space because the industry has been so slow in adopting IT. However, due to the Affordable Care Act, IT has become an important solution to enabling higher quality while reducing cost.
LR: Healthcare IT is still the “wild west,” because there are opportunities literally everywhere. There are also risks and relatively high barriers to entry, though. There are countless rewards for entrepreneurs who can solve problems such as ownership and transfer of EMR (electronic medical records), price transparency (helping patients make more informed decisions about which products and services to purchase as they become responsible for more of the cost), and, of course, real-time communications!
WJ: What would you say are the big hurdles that have prevented adoption of better hospital communication systems, and how does Seratis go over these hurdles?
DD: There is a lot of inertia in large hospitals about adopting new technology especially if it requires change in workflow. Seratis is working within a doctor’s workflow by making the application patient-centric, so that the value proposition is greater than better communications, it is also workflow management.
LR: The majority of hospitals don’t have a smartphone-based real-time communication system, and the majority are looking to purchase one today. Nearly everyone we’ve spoken to loves our idea. However, hospitals today are spending an enormous amount of resources testing and installing EMR systems. Once they have these EMR systems in place, the next thing they’ll need is a better communication tool. One big hurdle is integration with these EMR systems. We are exploring integration while simultaneously creating value in the short-term for hospitals which don’t have an EMR in place yet.
WJ: What’s next for Seratis? What do you hope to achieve in the next 12 months?
DD: We hope to have launched several pilots and acquired our first paying customer.
LR: …and have some fun in the process!
WJ: What kind(s) of business models have you seen working well for healthcare IT startups, and how do they differ from what you envision for Seratis?
DD: Per-user, per-month fees (an SaaS model) work well as that way you can scale up within a large organization. We will be following this business model but then giving significant discounts once we are deployed at scale at a large organization.
LR: We’re also exploring the possibility of a freemium model, where we offer basic services, such as secure chat, for free, and additional value-added services, such as analytics and integration, for a fee.
WJ: What advice do you have for first-time entrepreneurs at Wharton?
DD: Get involved with eClub and founders club as the community is very supportive and you’ll catalyze your learning about the Philadelphia start up ecosystem. And get started!
LR: In addition, get outside the Wharton bubble a little bit. The best ideas and partnerships are born of conversation among intelligent, diverse minds. Mingle with the fantastically gifted undergrads, engineers, and students in other schools like the medical school. Visit local VCs and volunteer at events and startup accelerators. Try Startup Weekend for a “mini immersion” into the experience of being an entrepreneur: I did this last year and it helped me realize that this is for me.