Most founders build businesses because of a problem they’ve experienced first hand. But few have done it after waiting in a hospital as their spouse was treated for cancer.
That’s what happened to Lizza Miller seven years ago as she brought her husband — also her best friend and co-founder — to another doctor’s appointment.
When George Dittmeier was diagnosed with a rare form of blood cancer, Lizza helped her soulmate organize a thick notebook filled with detailed diagnosis information, medications, treatment options, advice, and other related papers. She would reference this notebook every time another big decision needed to be made.
But one day inside a hospital, Miller started thinking about how antiquated and inefficient that notebook really was.
“I was just so frustrated,” she said. “It was such an archaic way of trying to make sense of things. There had to be a better way.”
That’s when Miller had an epiphany. Her 11-year-old company, DatStat, was already helping researchers automate their workflow and engage study patients with a software solution — why couldn’t the same technology be used for point-of-care patients inside hospitals and clinics?
Her husband survived, but the experience had a lasting impact. Fast forward seven years, and DatStat now not only builds software for researchers, but also helps patients capture their own health data that ultimately lets physicians better provide more personalized care.
“In the beginning, I was a researcher developing DatStat for my world of research,” Miller says now. “But later on, it became very personal.”
DatStat is now a 45-person company in Seattle that has customers like Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Kaiser Permanente, and Seattle Children’s Hospital all using its cloud-based software for both research and patient care purposes.
Miller explained that there’s a problem in existing healthcare today with fragmentation of data and a lack of engaged focus on patients. As a result — and thanks in part to the Affordable Care Act — more industry leaders are pushing for what’s called “value-based care,” or the concept that doctors should be paid based on quality, not quantity, of care.
“This has forced institutions to stop trying to profit per visit and drive people needlessly into clinics,” Miller said. “It is now set up to drive value-based interactions.”
However, there is a shortage of doctors in both primary and speciality care. This means that doctors need to see more patients per day, but also improve the quality of their care.
“The only way we can solve this problem is with technology,” Miller noted.
DatStat’s software is designed to help doctors be more efficient with patients. For example, instead of patients filling out an intake form each time they arrive at the doctor’s office, DatStat digitizes the process so patients can provide that information prior to an appointment, and clinicians can see the data in an organized format. It also offers a way for patients to consume tailored content while they wait for the doctor based on their survey answers. After an appointment, patients can continue using the software to track treatment over time. DatStat also lets hospitals and clinics easily collect feedback from patients on the quality of their visit.
Perhaps most importantly, DatStat provides a place to easily access and manage all that information. The idea is to help doctors connect dots and offer better care by using the technology-enabled tools.
“Without a platform-based solution, that data is in a whole bunch of different places,” said DatStat COO Amber Ratcliffe. “Electronic health records are intended to facilitate billing — they do not facilitate patient interaction.”
Helping researchers is still a big part of DatStat’s business, and this week the company announced Illume Next, the next generation of its enterprise software for health researchers and clinicians. Illume Next is essentially survey software on steroids, offering researchers a data collection and study automation platform that helps retain participants and pull insights from fragmented data sets.
DatStat, which has been profitable since it took a small amount of angel funding early on, works with a variety of research customers. One of those is the Fred Hutch Cancer Research Center, which uses the software to help workers in Zambia organize HIV and AIDS data collection across 21 communities. The company is also working with Group Health on a groundbreaking study that aims to learn more about how to prevent suicide.
“They are doing all of this with our technology as the backbone that engages participants, puts them in different conditions, tracks them over time, makes them follow a protocol, and then delivers the communication and content that’s relevant to what they are doing,” Miller said.
Both parts of DatStat’s business utilize the same underlying technology, and for Miller, it’s a combination that helps fulfill the company’s original mission.
“Both applications do the same thing: Take care of and support that longitudinal process of chronic care,” she said. “When a customer asks us to support them, we ask ourselves if it fits within what we can do to help them make the world a healthier place. If so, then it’s absolutely right for us.”
Miller said she never envisioned becoming an entrepreneur until learning how much she enjoys taking risks to help solve people’s problems. She encouraged other entrepreneurs and technologists to do the same.
“Technology really can be used for the greater good,” Miller said. “I hope entrepreneurs that are starting out can look at the bigger picture and say, ‘what huge problem do we need to solve?’ I hope they can use their great minds and abilities to bring resources together to solve those problems. We are carving that out in our world, and I want to see more people do some of that, too.”