Getting Your Clinical Data Where You Need It, In Seconds with Debi Willis, CEO of PatientLink
: [00:00:01] Welcome to the Outcomes Rocket podcast where we inspire collaborative thinking, improved outcomes and business success with today's most successful and inspiring healthcare leaders and influencers. And now your host, Saul Marquez
Saul Marquez: [00:00:19] Outcomes rocket listeners, welcome back once again to the Outcomes Rocket where we chat with today's most successful and inspiring healthcare leaders. I want to welcome you to go to outcomesrocket.health/reviews where you could leave a rating and a review of today's episode. Without further ado I want to introduce our outstanding guests. Her name is Debi Willis. She is the CEO and founder at PatientLink Enterprises Incorporated. They're doing some pretty amazing things over there she's been at it for almost two decades. There are tons of experienced tons of results lots of partnerships will be diving into the things that she's done. But you know she started off as an engineer so I'm going to let Debbie dive into a little bit of the background but wanted to give you a warm welcome. Debbie welcome to the podcast.
Debi Willis: [00:01:08] Thank you. Thank you. It's very exciting to be here. Thank you.
Saul Marquez: [00:01:11] Absolutely. So did I miss anything in your intro that you wanted to tell the listeners that.
Debi Willis: [00:01:16] No I think that's a good flavor to start with and I'll just add more layers as we go.
Saul Marquez: [00:01:21] Perfect. So I always love to start off with the genesis of it all for my guests. And what is it that got you into the medical sector to begin with.
Debi Willis: [00:01:30] Well I was a software engineer at the Federal Reserve Bank and the Federal Reserve has always really been automated for a very long time. And I met a doctor who told me about this brand new thing in the 90s card electronic medical records. He was so excited about them. So I thought well let me check this out. And I thought it was fascinating to actually automate medical records. You know they're not going to be on paper anymore they're going to be in the computer. I want to be part of this so I jumped from the Federal Reserve into medical or had to learn all new acronyms. It was yes it was but it was it was quite a ride. I really enjoyed it.
Saul Marquez: [00:02:11] And you took the dive. You saw you had a vision 18 years ago. Deb and fast forward to now. Are you glad that you made the jump.
Debi Willis: [00:02:21] Oh most definitely. I feel that what's happening in medicine right now is incredibly exciting and this is a new era that's going to change health care health care. Technology is going to change health care and we're going to find cures faster. And so many exciting things are going to happen in the next few years. And it's all because of technology and I'm thrilled to be here. It's incredibly fun.
Saul Marquez: [00:02:44] Well your life's mission is certainly clear. Debbie I got that just from catching up with you here before recording. And I wanted to ask you so tell us how things that led for you to create the company.
Debi Willis: [00:02:58] Sure. I never intended to have a company. I just wanted to really help the doctors. They were getting electronic medical records and very very frustrated with having to type all this data in as a doctor. They were used to scribbling on a piece of paper anywhere they wanted and being able to really focus on taking care of the patient and not on where documentation went. But once they went through electronic medical records yes just like on the right part parts and on the computer screen and types of data and they were they were crazy mad about it as an angry and they said well let me see what I can do. I mean see if we can make this better. So they were very kind and let me follow them around what they were doing. Did the doctors and the nurses I sat in the waiting room and watched the people and realized about 85 percent of what they were having to type in was actually coming directly from a patient. And I thought well you know why can't we have the patient get the information directly from the patient into the electronic medical record. And so really the genesis of all this was to solve a problem not to start a company. And that's where I started a thought. Well let me see if I can help these doctors. And I thought what format do I want to use for the patient to feel very comfortable to enter data. And. At first I thought let's do this on a computer. Let them sit at a little kiosk and type to date. But this is back in 1999. So I realize that's probably not very comfortable and it's going to be a backlog. People are going to be struggling with the computers. They're used to paper. So let me create something that allows them to answer the questions that the doctors need and now on paper digitized that data and send it to the right places in the current medical record. I actually wanted to find a product that did that. But there was none. And so I wrote that and I am implemented at a couple of clinics where my clients and I then went in 2000 and presented at a national conference and it was standing room only and there and it was actually terrifying because I am a quiet person. You know I know this and I have thousands of people watching me do this was terrifying but so exciting and I had all kinds of people coming up saying hey would you write this for me. Would you build this for me. And so then I decided Well let me patronymics because nobody had ever done that before. Tolda it's impossible to get a patent don't even try it. No I don't think it's impossible. I tried and the people at the patent office couldn't understand what an electronic medical record was. That's true. Yeah. So they kept coming back with the same as they are this is the same as that. No it's not. I actually flew to Washington D.C. and I brought my product and I said this is an electronic medical record. This is what doctors have to do with outpatient minC. Now let me show you. Patient link and how it helps doctors. And this light bulb went off and they said Wow. Now we understood. Yes you can have the patent. And I wanted to jump across that just a bit. Literally Mannhai in a side.
Saul Marquez: [00:06:17] Wow. Hey how long was that the process like having a try to get your patent for this how long was it hard to take.
Debi Willis: [00:06:24] Several years. It. Yeah yeah. That. Yeah but it was definitely worth it if you are an entrepreneur and you have a good idea you need to protect it. If it's protectable not everything is patentable but that one was. So we start with the paper product and then in 2006 when there was more use of the Internet we went to patientlink online people could fill out the same questionnaires from their home. And now we have patient link available also in clinics on devices you know any electronic device or a kiosk or whatever so whatever makes a patient comfortable. That's why how we want to engage with them and then send the data in as electronic data so that the doctor has all the information when they start the visit to they can have more quality time with the patient.
Saul Marquez: [00:07:15] Wow that our idea that's fascinating and listeners I'm sure you're taking some notes from this conversation just from the get go you could tell Debbie's passion for what she does. Her intentions and all saw her drive to make it happen. To get outside of her comfort zone to present this stuff in front of thousands of people standing room only to take a flight to D.C. to actually show the patent office what it is after years of trying to get this protected. This is a lady that's fully committed to what she does and I hope you're getting some inspiration from her story and definitely some ideas on what it is that you can do if you're creating a product or if you're driving an organization to create results. Debbie what do you think. A hot topic that should be on every medical leaders agenda today.
Debi Willis: [00:08:05] Well they should really be proud to bring the patient and to be part of the care team and that's our new product. I was hoping that you could transition it into that pledge to help. I think the demanding that commune's you know awesome this is. But if you've ever been a patient or a caregiver you realize that our data is fractured across our multiple caregivers. You know in my mom's generation one doctor took care of everything. You know if she had a stomach ache or if she had heart disease. One doctor. Now we have a doctor for every organ of our body specialists. Yes. Yes. So this all kind of started years ago. My sister had cancer and we were really trying to find research and find information really about she had brain cancer. And so what I saw in that was really the little information just to educate people. Not even the nightmare of trying to get your own records. Yeah. And then a few years after we lost her I had cancer and my God and I got my kidney cancer and I was really grateful that I found it in time thank God that I thought yeah. So I mean I'm a cancer survivor but enormous experience. Thank you. I learned some very important lessons and besides the fact that every day is precious that something important that I really underscore the day. But what I learned is that the real true patients struggle to get their information. I've been focusing for awhile on getting information for doctors to take better care of patients and improving that communication. But now I wanted to turn my focus to helping patients get all of their information from all of their doctors and then be in control of one aggregated record. And I started this vision actually am I woke my husband up March 12
Saul Marquez: [00:10:05] What do you want. What's going on. There's a not going to be your ideas.
Debi Willis: [00:10:10] Yes. You get to lead. I have an idea. I'm going to build something for how patient and I wanted to be able to pull their data from all of their doctors. No more waiting in lines to get paper copies and bring it over to the next doctor who then makes more copies. So he said OK. And I carried a tablet and pencil around with me for two weeks and then whenever I had an idea I wrote it down. And at a time in 2012 that was impossible. I mean really it was like trying to decide to go to the moon in the 1920s. You know it's like not going to happen but I thought we can find a way. I'm just going to design this program and then I will design how we're going to actually connect it to all of these different places. So a few years ago which would have been maybe two or three years after I decided to start this. The government started talking about a new API application programming interface to gather medical records and it's called Fhir. F H I R yes. Back to healthcare interoperability resources. And I watched it for a while I thought and I want to just jump on this brand new thing and waste time and money. I just want to see it is it going in the right direction is it real. Now once I got convinced yes I'm going to take this route. We added fire to mailings to actually be that connection. And then we entered our web application into a government contest at the open sea and we won first prize was like thrilled thank you. Because it's you like big highly funded organizations on the east or west coast. And here we are a small woman owned company in the middle of the US. I love it when we went to Oklahoma. AB Yeah. Yes we're focused. Do we just knew this was so important to patients. And there are several things I've been really keeping my finger on the pulse of government policy. Where's that going. Where is health care I.T. going. Where is the needs of our clients who are physicians and hospitals and where is the patient's needs and really taking all those three together and then building my links. And so there is. Speaking of government policy there is no meaningful use. We mandate it was going to be from January 2018 and it got moved to 19 which I'm really happy about that mandate says patients have the right to use any application of their choice to download their medical records as long as that application is conforms to the API of that H.R. which means I can't be forced to gather my records from a portal I can use any application to aggregate all my records so that really ignited the industry to add the fire API to the charges. That really policy pushes business decisions. So I was thrilled about that. And then the 21st century's cure act is really pushing things further saying really mandating an easy way for patients to get their data. And it can't be data blocking anymore. And so there are a lot of government policies that are really pushing the industry to its you know driving it for interoperability which is so needed. So our goal is to really empower the patient get them part of that care team in my personal case honestly. Had I not been so insistent that I felt something was wrong with me I kept going to different doctors and they all told me I was absolutely fine. Had I not been persistent I would not be here today because. Yeah finally one. Actually it was a nurse practitioner she said we'll have to do a sonogram you know because I was complaining and complaining. And they found the cancer that way I had done every expensive test with every well yeah. So the patients really persistent in their health care is so important and in order to be persistent I think you really need to be educated meaning to understand your condition and the best way to understand your condition is by looking at all the records and then reaching out to the experts. So we call it Miling because it links patients to their doctors and their records. It links patients to researchers were in the process of building that out and it links patients to each other because we as humans we're social creatures we are we really. Unity is huge can't do this for ourselves. Yeah just and so we have a forum there that patients can talk with each other publicly. But if somebody looks interesting to me and I feel like I want to reach out to that person I can click on their name and I can see more about the post that they've done and I can actually have a private conversation with them which I think is so important. When I got diagnosed with cancer I came home I sat on my sofa and I said I want to have a conversation with a woman in Oklahoma City who had kidney cancer. I wanted to be specific by she said Oh you'll be fine. But I really wanted to talk to somebody who's been there. So that was impossible. I mean it doesn't allow you to ask your doctor who else has kidney cancer. You know want to to them. So that is what we're building. Well I never found that person. You didn't find that. That's why I built this into my links is a platform that you not only can gather your data but you can connect to other people. So that is going to really empower people to keep going. Sometimes too we have points and their lives are like why even try. You know and then you kind of major your cheerleaders around you say no you can do this. Yes possible.
Saul Marquez: [00:15:56] I love it. Now this is great Debi. I love the evolution. You know you've taken this consumer facing in such a way that will help any patient who's a person. You know I think oftentimes we lose track of that we're all patients we're all people and we all need this human connection which the community part will provide. But we also need this education and access access to our data. And you didn't mention one piece Debbie you said that you were glad that this law got postponed the meaningful use part by a year. Why were you glad that it got postponed. Maybe I'm not clear on that here.
Debi Willis: [00:16:31] First I was disappointed. Oh man I really want this to happen now. But I realized that this is such an important piece that the H.R. vendors are putting in their electronic medical records and testing with the all the clinics that it's now going to be a more sane rollout.
Saul Marquez: [00:16:50] Okay got it. Yeah he gives people Heilbronn hide and get paid for it.
Debi Willis: [00:16:54] Right. Right it will happen. It's just that we're now going to have it in a more organized the way. Got it.
Saul Marquez: [00:17:01] I'm with you. I'm with you OK. Got it I didn't want to assume. And so appreciate you highlighting the why behind that makes a lot of sense. Yes. Yeah. You know I find oftentimes Debbie that good ideas happen and entrepreneurs well developed. Who pays for this. Does a consumer pay for it. Does the insurance company for it.
Debi Willis: [00:17:22] Yeah a lot of people are asking that question right now I'm paying for my retirement my grandchildren's education my children aren't listening but all that money that I've been saving all my life I've gone into this and I will continue to fund it because I want it to be free for patients and free for doctors. And I want really to sponsor this and really call it a sponsorship sponsor as they can be always free to patients and doctors would be the people the researchers who want to connect because my mom had Alzheimer's and I would gladly give my DNA. I would gladly answer questions on a quarterly monthly weekly basis or whatever to find a cure for Alzheimer's and three members of my family died of brain cancer that something you know I want to find a cure for that autism Parkinson's you know so many things. I believe people are passionate about wanting some sort of way to participate in finding a cure. And the way that they can participate in finding a cure is by really engaging with research whether it's just giving your data with the identified or whether it's giving your data with a dye densification or with it whether it's actually really engaging in long term research to help find the cures and to me research doesn't mean I have to take a drug you know it may. Oh absolutely. Them finding out about me as I progress through my years what's impacting me what's making me better or worse so that I think is one element of who will pay for this but I really can't bring people back to things like Facebook you know Facebook is free but they definitely do generate revenue. Sure. Because there are paid services. I think those things don't spring up. It's such a need. My focus right now is just to get patients have a secure place for them to go to have them really enjoy the application and the connections they can have. I do want to say no data is ever shared without the X Lycett. OK okay from a patient. We don't take their data at all. I mean I want people to treat. I want to treat everybody like I want to be treated everybody's data is their data. Until they say I want to share this they can be shared just specific elements of it.
Saul Marquez: [00:19:36] It's super interesting Debbie and I love your passion for this. The mission is clear crystal clear. So is this active. Now can patients access it now.
Debi Willis: [00:19:46] Right now we are actively getting all the H.R. vendors ready. They are several of them already. If anybody had an epic like they have in my. They probably will be able to get on because epic has a lot of their clinics using it. We are very engaged with our scripts and on next gen we're also able to connect with Cerner and that Jeenah in several different ones but they're all of the clinics are right now installing their API. They have to be ready by January to and 19 got it. But this is going to be the year where you might be able to get on but you might not be able to get your data from all the clinics. And so the way we're handling this is we're letting clinics invite their patients like Facebook started invitation only. Yeah. We want people to actually ask their clinic Hey you ever heard about my links. I would like an invitation to my links please. And so then they would contact us. We would make sure they are ready with their API and then we say ok start inviting people. So that's the way we're going to handle it is by invitation from a clinic. And then once we feel that there are enough clinics who have their fire API we're going to open it to everybody.
Saul Marquez: [00:21:00] Beautiful. I love the long term vision. Everything seems well organized. Listen you took notes on your notepad. You've really been very thoughtful about how you do this. Bobby I am pretty certain things are going to work out really well and it's exciting to know that a resource like this will be available. It truly is the future. And I appreciate you being the visionary that you are like you did with patient link. Now at this new platform Miling. So as we get closer to that time frame we'll love to have you back on the podcast when it goes live so that we could spread the word for you.
Debi Willis: [00:21:35] Thank you. I would love that I really would.
Saul Marquez: [00:21:38] And so Debi. This has been tons of fun. This is more of an structured fun conversation that you know we kind of veered away from the typical format of the show because it was just so cool just to talk to you about your passion and your project. And so I usually close off with asking for our guests to share a closing thought and would love to open that up for you. And then also the best place where the listeners can get a hold of you.
Debi Willis: [00:22:03] Yeah. Well my closing time is we really truly are entering a brand new era and we're in this together. All of us together are going to be able to find cures faster by joining both together. And if anybody wants to get a hold of me you can just email me at Debbie and ask for letters firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com either one going to come to me, glad to hear from people.
Saul Marquez: [00:22:31] Debbie thank you so much for that. And listeners if something that Debbie said struck a chord within you or a researcher looking to partner up with an organization that has a future vision or are a physician that something or a patient whoever you may be take her up on this. I have a strong feeling that this is going to be a resource that we use in the future so Debi again just want to say thank you so much for spending some time with us today.
Debi Willis: [00:22:55] Thank you so much for the invitation.
: [00:23:01] Thanks for listening to the Outcomes Rocket podcast. Be sure to visit us on the web at www.outcomesrocket.health for the show notes, resources, inspiration and so much more.
The Best Way To Contact Debi: