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Eliminating 100K Yearly Deaths Caused by Healthcare Acquired Infections with Mert Iseri, CEO at SwipeSense

Episode 223

Eliminating 100K Yearly Deaths Caused by Healthcare Acquired Infections with Mert Iseri, CEO at SwipeSense

Hey Outcomes Rocket friends, thanks for tuning in to the podcast once again. As a leader in health care, you have big ideas great products, a story to tell, and are looking for ways to improve your reach and scale your business. However there’s one tiny problem. Health care is tough to navigate and the typical sales cycle is low. That’s why you should consider starting your own podcast as part of your sales and marketing strategy. At the Outcomes Rocket, I’ve been able to reach thousands of people every single month that I wouldn’t have otherwise been able to reach if I had not started my podcast. Having this organic reach enables me to get the feedback necessary to create a podcast that delivers value that you are looking for. And the same thing goes if you start a podcast for what you could learn from your customers. The best thing about podcasting in healthcare is that we are currently at the ground level, meaning that the number of people in healthcare listening to podcasts is small but growing rapidly. I put together a free checklist for you to check out the steps on what it takes to create your own podcast. You could find that at outcomesrocket.health/podcast. Check it out today and find a new way to leverage the sales, marketing and outcomes of your business. That’s outcomesrocket.health/podcast.

Welcome back once again to the Outcomes Rocket podcast where we chat with today’s most successful and inspiring health leaders. I’ve a wonderful treat for you today. From the great city of Chicago, our guest’s name is Mert Iseri. He’s the CEO at Swipesense. Mert is the young turk of design. His journey started off in Istanbul, Turkey and change courses completely once he arrived at Northwestern McCormick School of Engineering. After graduating with his own degree in the spring of 2011 he’s excited to embrace design and entrepreneurship to galvanize a generation into positive change. He pick health care of course to do that. During his time in Northwestern, he cofounded design for America, a national network of students that lead design studios working to create social impact and currently as I mentioned he’s the co-founder and CEO of Swipesense, a company that aims to save the 100000 deaths that occur every year in the U.S. due to a HAIs hospital acquired infections. So it’s with the tremendous pleasure that I welcome this fellow Chicago in, Mert to the podcast. Welcome my friend.

It’s my pleasure to be here. Thank you so much for having me.

Hey it’s a pleasure, Mert. And so tell me what is it that catapulted you into the medical sector.

Ever since I was a kid I knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur. I was one of those kids with the candy racket in elementary school. I was selling thing in school, I was organizing events. To me it was just what I wanted to become when I grew up. I was just sort of waiting to grow up I guess. And I believe it’s a part of me that feels really really passionately about the craft of entrepreneurship is that the endgame is to truly create impact. It was back then. It is now. I hope that it will be in the future that it’s about the improvement that you create in society in people’s lives that are tangible and measurable. I don’t get as excited about potentially selling ads online. I mean nothing against businesses that do that. I think it’s wonderful it’s amazing. I’m glad to have Instagram in my life. But at the same time in terms of finding the good fight I want to save lives. I want to do something that matters. And one thing that I’ve found over and over and over again you can walk through a house and start chewing gum or you’ll probably save someone’s life. It’s an amazing privilege to be in health care because ultimately you know that all the sleepless nights all the hard work all the effort that goes into it. It truly makes someone’s life better. It’s the kind of future that I want to live in because of the change that we’re creating in hospitals. So I find it infinitely rewarding to know that your work has a social impact component to it. And I’m the biggest capitals in the world. I don’t think that takes away anything from the business liability if anything it adds because it’s it’s a tremendous joy to be a part of it for myself and all of our team members.

Mert there’s no doubt that you are passionate about what you do. I love the energy that you bring. We had a chance to connect here before on some of the local happenings and you know what. It’s true with healthcare being so complex it doesn’t have to be that way and I’m excited to dive into some of the things that you have done and things that you’ve unlocked to make health care better. On that note what would you say a hot topic that you feel needs to be and every medical leaders agenda and how are you guys approaching.

Consumerism in healthcare. I think health care is on the verge of an earthquake of realizing how much of the quality of care that exists in the hospital is actually directly tied to the value of hospitals brands hospital spend a tremendous amount of time and energy to market their services by taking up the billboards and running ads and of course this is a fight. And everybody wants to capture as much market share as possible but realizing that the single biggest thing you can do is actually improve someone’s experience during their care. So they become ultimately repeat customers. Thus what an amazing new idea that has to be on the forefront. The first question that every hospital CEO has asked when they started there and the last question that they asked when they really in the building is, how have we created a brand positive experience for our patients that come through these doors because we know that more people have access to information that ever before more people are talking about the time they spent in the hospital more people are recommending things online anonymously or tied to their identity. And the fact that that doesn’t sort of take up the decision making process in the hospital is extremely bewildering to me. And it’s you know somewhat disturbing as well. It almost shows that this monopoly mindset that has existed in health care for a long time continues to exist and hospitals that have made the leap in understand that they’re running a service business that just happens to serve folks who who want to gain their health is a big shift in mindset that has to be every medical leader’s mindset right now.

I think that’s a really great callout and we’re approaching this so you know big thing it happened listeners as you are now is this big increase in in the deductible that we have to pay that is making it more real for us.

Absolutely. Basically it’s money leaving your pocket. I mean we always talk about healthcare costs versus health care prices. I think once you have a deductible they have to pay three four grand for that cost because the price and you are much more conscientious about who you see that service from. And it’s again it’s basic things that I don’t want to wait no line in an amusement park or in a hospital. So it’s not necessarily new things that hospitals need to start realizing they just need to recognize that their customers their patients have a different worldview now and they have to adapt accordingly.

Now it’s a great callout Murt. So talk to us about Swipesense what are you guys doing to help these systems be more consumer centric. Tell us a little bit about what Swipesense does and how you guys are doing things differently to create results.

We have a very simple value add to the healthcare operations. We basically improve healthcare performance metrics and I like to think of these as boring things like are my doctors and nurses washing their hands appropriately and in exchange what we get by improving these metrics like hand hygiene is we improve patient outcomes. I mean everybody sort of knows that if you wash your hands more you get less infections inside the hospital but it’s extremely difficult to measure and extremely difficult to change. It’s a cultural issue. People don’t like to be told what to do. All sorts of things that come into. But ultimately what I want hospitals to realize is we basically shift the conversation around performance indicators like hand hygiene into things that are predictable improvements. Again these are things you should worry about measuring and improving and having a dash worker. These are things that should just improve over time. So this is exactly what swipes does for hospitals. And to our point on health care as a consumer and health care as a choice or health care as something that people will now have optionality in. I think it’s increasingly important that hospitals get the basics right. People go to the hospital not to spend time there but to get better. And if I’m going to have a hip surgery I want to be discharged in exactly the same time that my doctor told me to do. I don’t want that to be any complications in my care and I want to enjoy my lunch while I’m there. But really number one and to first. So our organization’s value is almost this whole grade of predictability in health care by basically allowing hospitals to do exactly what they tell their patients to do. And we’ve started from hand hygiene. We’ve seen some tremendous results accordingly and now we’re expanding into additional bottlenecks inside the hospital.

Very cool. Very cool. Now if we dive deeper into your hand hygiene application for instance what sets you apart like what is it that you guys do to make it easier?

Very very straightforward. Hospitals today use pen and paper to solve this problem. They basically have what they call secret observers that are not so secret because their colleagues with pen and paper in the corner of Allaway but they basically just wash their beers and every unit as we do a certain number of observations per week, per month and they analyze it and nothing happens. This is our largest competition. This is our status quo. Now about five years ago, companies like Swipesense started attacking this space and now it’s a very very good opportunity with cutthroat competition amongst companies. And the reason why Swipesense is different is we’ve sort of separated this into two problems. One of them is a technology problem. How can we install something in an affordable manner? How can we not disrupt workflow? How can we give you a sense that you have to recharge? All the good things that make the Apple phone better than some Android phone. These are things that are intuitive and well designed. But I always viewed as half the problem Swipesense basically easily implement much more affordable than your competition. But ultimately what it does differently than anyone else is that we are obsessed with what you do with this data. I fundamentally do not believe that it’s good enough for me to simply give a graphic or a number to a hospital and hope that they will get better and by the way the starting point for these hospitals is much worse than people anticipated. The average hospital starts from 30 to 40 percent compliance in their hand hygiene from a journey which is a very disturbing and scary number. What it’s even scarier when your task to improve this number. It’s easy to get 80 percent to 90 percent. Much much harder when you’re signing up from 30 and your perception is that you’re at 90 percent. So we spend an awful lot of time trying to understand the behavioural economics behind why people act a certain way inside the hospital and it is fascinating. So we have the most number of customers in this space because we really took an obsessive approach into figuring out what ticks people, what motivates them, what rewards them, and ultimately will do a fantastic job in getting that predictable improvement over time versus just the dashboard and sort of a good luck wish in terms of improvement down the road.

Love that. I love that, Mert. Thanks for walking us through that listeners if you have any curiosity about this go to swipesense.com you’ll find the hand hygiene module there and they also give you a nice downloadable case study where you could take a look at some of the things that they’ve done validated backed by hospitals that have actually gone through this process. Very cool work that you guys are up to there, Mert. Tell me something give me an example of a time when you guys had a setback. And what did you learn from that setback? What helped you guys keep going?

Absolutely you know early on our product looked nothing like it is today. Now believe it or not the reason why we’re called swipesense because we had a portable dispenser and the original idea was it’s as easy to swipe your hands on your pants. It’s the intuitive gesture of hand hygiene. We thought all we have to do is take the dispenser on the wall and put it into a little dispenser and attached your hips and it’s going from the wall-mounted phones to the cell phone. That’s what we want to do and the company swipesense because it just makes sense. Turns out this was not such a good idea because health care workers have so much on them that they really don’t want one more thing either of them which ID card that we’re giving them right now. It’s one more thing for them to carry around. And it’s a big no no in our early dispensers. I mean I thought it was the most beautiful thing in the world that is egg the top health came of it this unique design and we patented the cartridge we were so excited about this moment to realize that nobody wanted it. And that’s a hard thing to realize because you love your baby as ugly as she is, you love your baby. That really sort of was a humbling moment because it made us realize a very very important lesson early on. Just because the problem is there doesn’t mean that it’s worth solving. It was incredibly difficult to find this wearable dispenser that way to a certain amount that a cartridge that was cheap to manufacture that easily attires did not leak. We spent a tremendous amount of energy. What we didn’t realize is actually pretty stupid idea. It turns out that all you had to do was build a handful of these prototypes give it to people on watch for a week for you to realize that this would never work. Sure there’s these little bottles that people carry around but it’s really for maybe five percent of healthcare workers and really for the 95 percent you’ve got to do something with the Walmart in dispenser. This is like I’ve said a humbling moment. But they taught us this lesson early on. So now we’re incredibly skeptical doesn’t mean that we doubt our success or don’t have conviction that the end game is meaningful. It just means that we have very very very questioning approaches whenever we come up with a new application or a news service or a new feature. We go out there and ask some pretty tough questions for our potential buyers or users. The same with actually moved the needle for them and if it doesn’t we’re brave enough to say that we were wrong earlier in the process rather than you know living it out and spending tons of time and energy into making them a reality. That was a large setback it took us about a year and a half to realize this but I think I’ve gained about 20 years for the rest of my life in terms of the future mistakes I’m going to avoid because of this.

That’s a great way to look at it. You had a setback that cost you some time but now you’re looking at it as an investment that’s gonna help you avoid losing more time in the future.

Absolutely every mistake is an experience as long as you learn from it. There’s no such thing as failure only experiences in life.

Love that my friend love that listeners take that and implement it into your current product or focus. If you’re company or even a provider for that matter working on it on a current project or a focus area before you go all the way in and bake everything pressure test it against your market pressure test it against the users before you move any further because it will save you a lot of time and give you the insights that you need to make an impact for product. What would you say Mert is one of your proudest leadership moments that you’ve experienced to date.

I was reviewing this and thinking through it. One of our customers held a fireside chat and we were at the Atick meeting. I think it was two weeks ago. This is the Super Bowl of infection control. This is our one time of the year where we get to meet our most number of customers and we’ll be going there for five years and we’re sort of is a reminder a five year anniversary or anything sort of a full of checkpoints for you to realize oh we’ve been doing this for a little bit you know we’re. So there was my fifth time there. Obviously I grew as an entrepreneur, as a leader, as a CEO, as a student of healthcare – as I like to call it but we held a fireside chat. Where we really wanted to sort of put our thoughts to the test and we took one of our customers. We took 20 of our prospects. We got everyone in a room and we said look we’re going to do something quite orthodox we’re not going to moderate or lead a conversation. It’s really raw and ask anything. Ask our customer whatever they would like you would like to know because we ultimately believe that they tell the story the best.


And this is one of our healthcare network partners are based in Tennessee and she shared the story of how the first couple that they implemented Swipesense had 23 infections in the previous year 23 almost two infections per month. Yeah they implemented Swipesense in December of last year. So December 2017 and they sort of have been looking very closely for the first six months. And really this was the first time that they were publicly talking about their outcomes. And again just going into a little bit of a surprise as well because again we wanted to take a chance and truly become vulnerable in front of our prospects and say look this is because we’re getting a real partner. She says since the beginning of the year we’ve had one hospital acquired infections in the States. And she shared with us how in this hospital now they don’t talk about decreasing their HAI. They talk about infections as something that should never happen. They have this big sign you know I don’t know if you have ever been to a factory but usually they’ll have they since last night. Yes. Yes. That makes them more in a sort of a thing that should never happen like that number should be a big number. Every time you look in this hospital they have a big sign that says they since last infection. And again it’s a change in mindset.

Huge huge change.

To hearing that from our customers say look we think differently about these things now.

Big shift.

With an organization that simply does not do this and this hospital the centers that you do not get an infection and it might happen. But it’s really strange and we’re going to really understand what went to the bottom of this. I thought long and hard about why I was really proud of that moment. On one hand it really is the product does what it says. Of course it’s exciting and you work very hard for things like this and I think it correlating with the five year anniversary was a big milestone for us.

That’s awesome, Mert.

Healthcare as a whole. I think the structures are something much larger and it sort of represents the shift of how Hustle’s can’t think of quality instead of using them as sort of an improvement process. Why don’t we view it as sort of a never event process. Why do we tolerate these in the first place and I was so proud of that. I mean I you know I was I would always say I cried in the background but I was going to be thankful and grateful to be in the world that I’m in right now that I wouldn’t trade it for anything else.

That’s so awesome. What a great story. And I love the shift in paradigm you know rather than say hey you know let’s reduce these to why are we having them in the first place. That’s such a great shift and a great transformation by that health care facility. Big kudos to them and kudos to you and your team for teaming up with them to achieve that. Now tell us a little bit about an exciting project or focus that you’re working on at Swipesense.

We recently decided to expand or capabilities as a company. Now this is again very early stage. We basically took a couple of our sensors about a year ago and started asking ourselves some critical questions around what additional problems we can solve in healthcare and we have now a number of partnerships with our customers were utilizing our technology for things other than hand hygiene. One of those solutions that we came up with is basically a novel asset tracking system. Asset tracking has existed in healthcare for a long time. These are large infrastructure projects and we’re sort of trying to come up with sort of the portable version of asset tracking how can we use something that’s quick and easy to deploy. That almost becomes an afterthought, a department or a one small unit and just obtained the systems for themselves. Now we’ve done a number of rollouts and we’re sort of learning a great deal about people’s behavior or sort of viewing the products the mobile devices that exist in healthcare almost as healthcare workers themselves. I mean they have jobs to do you know an EKG monitor has a job in terms of serving a patient on the pump or a wheelchair. These are all things that have jobs as limited and singular as they are and of course they need the support of assistance of an actual healthcare worker. But it’s really interesting to see some of these devices have shifts just like healthcare workers. Some of them are busier than others some of them are lazier than others and it’s really interesting to look at that as products inside healthcare as things that almost like workers themselves with their own needs and maintenance, certain age and retention and longevity and so on and so forth. And we’re seeing very interesting parallels between devices that are overutilized and as a result have all sorts of issues versus devices that are simply over purchased and it’s almost like you hired 20 extra nurses where you didn’t really need them. Seeing this shift inside the hospital terms of how they operate and their capital resources. And by the way I don’t need to tell you this. These are not cheap things. I mean iTunes is like a 10000 unit or it’s elementary module is ours to view these things not as. That’s how we’ve always purchased things versus really thoughtful analysis of what we do and what we don’t do and plan intelligently for our next capital cycle is to me a tremendously interesting Simendinger of The state has never existed before. There was never a sensor on a particular device that told you this device gets used ten times more than the other. This was a similar insight that we found out in our handwriting hygiene when we found out that certain distances are used literally ten times more than the other announcers. Some of them barely get used up here and yet they’re still there. I mean that’s sort of a similar analysis on the products that you have inside the hospital has to be really really exciting.

Just a quick question are you guys taking some data output from the devices as well or is it mainly just kind of like in use or out of use type data?

It’s in use not to use data so actually turns out something’s location and their power of movement tells you all about whether they’re used or not because it’s again very predictable an EKG monitor does certain things when they’re in use versus when they’re not in use. So you could have a reading that tells us about what their behaviour and sort of their shifts “are looking like”. And like I said treat them as almost employees of your hospital as well and make good decisions for their hiring.

Love it that’s very exciting and with thousands of dollars being spent millions and billions of dollars being spent every year asset tracking is key. Why not do it a little bit differently folks and it’s a pretty interesting idea that Mert is offering up here again. Mert is the CEO of Swipesense. It is all the information that we’re talking about is that swipesense.com as it sounds Mert let’s pretend you and I are building a medical leadership course and what it takes to be successful in health care today. The 101 of Mert Iseri. And so we’re going to write out a syllabus with four questions lightning round style followed by a book that you recommend to the listeners. You ready?

I’m ready. I’m so excited for this.

Awesome. Let’s go. So what is the best way to improve health care outcomes?

Peel the onion until you understand the core incentives of what you’re trying to do.

What’s the biggest mistake or a pitfall to avoid?

Assuming that it works in another industry that it translates into health care.

Love that one my friend. How do you stay relevant as an organization despite constant change?

Obsessively compulsively listen to health care executives and frontline staff they know more than you will ever learn in your entire career as an entrepreneur in healthcare.

Well that and that’s what we do here and the outcomes rocket so keep listening.


What’s one area of focus that drives all else in a health care company?

How many lives have we saved today. No matter what we decide it has to serve our patients.

Beautiful. What book would you recommend to the listeners as part of this syllabus?

The Hard Thing About Hard Things from Ben Horowitz.

Love that we’ve had that recommendation once or twice before and.

We can do another one then if you already have.

No, that’s perfect. I mean so what’s the big takeaway for the listeners. Why should they read it?

Keep going. It’s dark it’s ugly. It’s the same for everyone. And what separates the good ones from the great ones is your ability to survive.

I love that I love that listeners. You can get this book link as well as the syllabus that we just put together for you. Show notes, transcript. All of that’s available at outcomesrocket.health/mert and Mert, this has just been a blast. I really appreciate your enthusiasm. Your very fine tuned detailed to what it takes to make healthcare better. Before I conclude I’d love if you could just share a closing thought and then the best place where the listeners could get in touch with you.

Easy to get in touch with me is just simply me mert@swipesense.com. My first name and the email address of the company is you’re out. I’m more than open to connecting with folks who are in healthcare who are thinking about getting in health care very approachable and have office hours that are open to anyone on Sundays and 2 to 5 to pick an hour with me no more than happy to sit down with you. In terms of takeaway, you know one of the things you realize after doing this for a number of years is the importance of the trust you have in the team and really how you should find yourself trusting and leaning on everyone else who makes magic happen. It’s very easy to think that you’re smart brilliant. What have you. It really humbling to realize that you really are a small piece of this puzzle and it’s your relationship and the accomplishments of the team that’s around you that matters the most. So I really have found to be tremendously helpful to build a dynamic inside the office that aligns people around the strong why which is in our case, saving lives. But that ultimately give people the freedom to basically follow their own interests and pursuits inside the organization. Yes we have a common direction we have a common North Star on how they should be defined by the people around the table rather than simply mean dictating. We need to do this and do that next. That humbling realization like I’ve said is something I’ve come to realize. After a few years I was very much the overconfidence. Let me get everything done type of entrepreneur early on. I’ve certainly loaned more to let go over the years and trust the folks that are around me. It’s been the thing that has been the most rewarding for me and I really encourage all of us to take a similar approach where surround yourself with extremely smart people and just get the hell out of their way. That is the best thing you can do as a CEO your organization.

I love it, Mert. What a great message listeners take note of that and be the leader that you are. Trust your team to deliver. Mert, there’s no doubt you guys are doing outstanding things. Thank you so much for sharing them with us and we’re excited to keep in touch.

Very, very excited. Thank you so much for the opportunity. And I’m looking forward to the next episode.

Hey Outcomes Rocket friends, thanks for tuning in to the podcast once again. As a leader in health care, you have big ideas great products, a story to tell, and are looking for ways to improve your reach and scale your business. However there’s one tiny problem. Health care is tough to navigate and the typical sales cycle is low. That’s why you should consider starting your own podcast as part of your sales and marketing strategy. At the Outcomes Rocket, I’ve been able to reach thousands of people every single month that I wouldn’t have otherwise been able to reach if I had not started my podcast. Having this organic reach enables me to get the feedback necessary to create a podcast that delivers value that you are looking for. And the same thing goes if you start a podcast for what you could learn from your customers. The best thing about podcasting in healthcare is that we are currently at the ground level, meaning that the number of people in healthcare listening to podcasts is small but growing rapidly. I put together a free checklist for you to check out the steps on what it takes to create your own podcast. You could find that at outcomesrocket.health/podcast. Check it out today and find a new way to leverage the sales, marketing and outcomes of your business. That’s outcomesrocket.health/podcast.

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Recommended Book:

The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers

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