True innovation
Can a Startup Fix U.S. Healthcare?
Free Enterprise Staff | October 23, 2014

UPDATE: At the 3rd Annual Health Care Summit on October 22, Modernizing Medicine was awarded the 2014 Leadership in Health Care by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. We profiled the company in July – check out the interview below.

One of Daniel Cane’s earliest forays into the business world came by way of Blackboard, a company he co-founded that went public in 2004, and sold for $1.6 billion in 2011.

Not bad for someone who couldn’t legally buy alcohol at the time.

Cane, who started Blackboard while a sophomore at Cornell University, is a self-styled serial entrepreneur, having spent much of his life building and scaling companies. Though he’s endured a string of failures along the way, he has a knack for identifying and exploiting industries that are ripe for innovation. Not one to shy away from a challenge, Cane has directed his attention to healthcare, a sector that’s not exactly known for its efficiency.

This time around, Cane has teamed with Dr. Michael Sherling, a practicing dermatologist, to found Modernizing Medicine. The aptly named company is taking a new approach to how physicians write, manage, and interact with electronic medical records (EMRs). Unlike many existing EMR systems, which are cumbersome and feature a one-size-fits-all interface, Modernizing Medicine’s cloud-based Electronic Medical Assistant (EMA) was designed and developed by physicians, whose unique perspective imbues the technology.

As a result, EMA remembers an individual practitioner’s preferences and adapts accordingly. Available as a native iPad application, it’s also easily accessible and generates both exam notes and billing codes automatically. Aside from its intuitive design, EMA allows physicians to make better-informed medical decisions. It achieves this, Cane says, by incorporating structured treatment and outcomes data from millions—and, in the future, potentially billions—of patient encounters.

This approach has earned the company a growing chorus of backers, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which chose Modernizing Medicine as a regional finalist for its 2014 DREAM BIG Small Business of the Year Award. During a recent Q&A with Free Enterprise, Cane talked about Modernizing Medicine, his background as a serial entrepreneur, and the state of U.S. healthcare.

FE: How’d you wind up starting a healthcare company?

I’m a classic serial entrepreneur. I love to—and I try never to use buzzwords, so know I’m trying not to use the word “disrupt”—but I like to do things that shake up established industries through technology. In this case, we’re trying to find ways of taking medical records, documentation, and decision making and bring it up to the cloud, make it mobile, and, more importantly, improve patient outcomes.

FE: Do you think this collaboration has been successful because you’re tackling a problem from two distinct perspectives?

Absolutely. I’m a tech entrepreneur and I’m a businessperson, but I’m not trained in healthcare. It takes the perspective of a practicing physician to not only understand the domain, but to be able to bring solutions that only someone deep in the domain could come up with.

FE: How did your experience at Blackboard prepare you for the challenge of starting Modernizing Medicine?

It prepared me well. I joke with the employees that I’m making entirely different mistakes this time. But, you know, you learn so from growing a company through five rounds of venture capital, through an I.P.O. process, through everything. At Blackboard, we scaled to over 3,000 employees, so I sort of know now with Modernizing what’s around the next corner, as we’re about to scale past 200 employees.

FE: Your EMA solution is specialty-specific. Why is it important that different kinds of practitioners have different kinds of software?

Because the specialties themselves are different. What an ophthalmologist does is completely different from a dermatologist, which is completely different from an orthopedic surgeon, and so on. If you give them the lowest common denominator, they’re going to have a really bad experience. It would be a lot like a surgeon in an operating room only being given a pair of scissors and a Band-Aid. It just isn’t going to work. They need to have the right tools for the job. A specialty-specific system like EMA understands the domain and already knows what’s going to happen so it’s able to drive tremendous efficiencies.

FE: What’s the response been like from the physicians who use your system, and do you ask for their input so you can hone and perfect your tools? 

We have eighteen physicians on staff because only physicians who are steeped in the domain who come from private practice can inform how the software’s supposed to work.

The feedback has been what would expect for a company that has captured 25% of the market. We didn’t get there because our product didn’t work; we got there because it saved doctors so much time that they told their peers about it, and it started to improve the patient outcomes and so the patients were talking about it.  The way we’ve grown the company has been very much word of mouth. It’s because we do such a good job at driving efficiency and productivity.