Vermont Health Connect might be the state’s biggest health care IT story, but it’s not the only one. The Green Mountain State is home to a growing number of health care IT companies, as well as scientists doing groundbreaking medical research.
More than 100 of those health care and IT professionals have joined the Burlington Healthcare Innovators Meetup group, which gathers every other month for networking events. On Thursday, November 7, the group hosted its first “show and tell” at the University of Vermont’s Health Care Research Facility, which is part of the College of Medicine — a location it secured with help from UVM’s Office of Technology Commercialization.
About 40 people showed up to hear a series of five-minute “lightning speeches.” After a half hour of socializing, BHI cofounder Sam Meyer opened the presentation portion of the event. He explained that each of the 12 speakers would get a 30-second warning when their time was up, followed by an alarm: “When you hear the dog bark, that means your time is up,” he warned.
The barking alarm went off quite often. Most of the speakers had difficulty limiting their presentations to five minutes, in part because their projects were so complicated. The first speaker, Robert Davis of Stromatec, showed how his company uses tiny needles like those used in acupuncture to measure the strength of connective tissue. Next up, Chip Hart of Physician’s Computer Company raced through a description of the Winooski company’s pediatric practice management software. He said the big advantage of PCC’s tools is that they subtly encourage doctors to engage with a practice’s financial and medical data , which can help the business run more efficiently and effectively. “None of this is revolutionary,” Hart said of the data PCC’s system generates. “It’s just feeding it back to them in a way that they can consume it.”
PCC has been around since 1983 and has a staff of 50. But some of the presenters are just getting their enterprises off the ground. Health economist Chris Jones of For My Odds spoke of an “app factory” his company hoped to develop in Burlington. Matthew Pell of Positive Pursuit described his to-do list system at simplist.me that lets health care providers give instructions to patients. Dr. Nicole Habel of VisibleEP (pictured), described how her company has developed a simulation that allows researchers to “see how electricity spreads through the heart.” Edward Shepard showed the website for 8-BitFit, his soon-to-be-released app for mobile devices, which makes achieving fitness goals into a game.
Larry Keyes of Microdesign Consulting (pictured) described another kind of fitness endeavor. He and his team designed a telemedicine project using a camera and microphone that hooks up to patients’ TV sets. They’ve used it to allow senior citizens to take a tai chi class from their own home, for example. Why use a TV rather than a computer? “They know how to use [the TV],” Keyes quipped.
At least one of the speakers represented a company that’s experiencing explosive growth. Rich Miller, CEO of Williston-based OpenTempo, explained that his business had just nine employees in February; today it has 26. “We’re growing like crazy,” Miller said. OpenTempo makes scheduling software for health care providers. It helps doctors save time during the scheduling process and ensures that schedulers are complying with safety protocols. It also helps clients flag employees who are under- or over-utilized, saving money in overtime wages. Miller cited a North Carolina client that saved $1 million, presumably over a year, “just by understanding the gaps in that schedule.”
When the presenters had finished their talks, BHI cofounder Katie McCurdy noted that OpenTempo is hiring, and encouraged the job seekers in the room to talk with Miller. Many people did stay afterward to socialize some more. The audience included staff from the presenting companies, as well as from related firms such as Galen Healthcare Solutions and the University of Vermont.
Watching everyone mingle, McCurdy said that sparking these kinds of conversations is the group’s ultimate goal. McCurdy, who works as a user-experience design consultant, recently moved to Vermont from New York City; most of her clients are still out of state. She said she’s drawn to the health care sector in part because she’s a longtime patient who suffers from an autoimmune disease. She’s interested in using her design skills to improve the patient experience.
McCurdy and Meyer started BHI about a year ago, mainly to see who else was working in the local health care space. Most of the events have been informal so far — this was the first real organized affair. “We just think that’s cool, to be able to get all these people in a room together and see what happens,” McCurdy said. “It makes me more hopeful about finding a full-time job here at some point.”
Interested in learning more? Join the Burlington Healthcare Innovators Meetup group to find out about the next event.