C-Suite Q&A: Ambra CEO Says that "The Age of Consumerism in Healthcare is Here"

Ryan Black
JUNE 23, 2017
In this week’s C-Suite Q&A, Healthcare Analytics News spoke with Morris Panner, the CEO of Ambra Health, for a ranging and rewarding discussion about interoperability, artificial intelligence, value-based care, and the business of running a health tech company. Ambra changed its name from DICOM Grid last summer to more accurately portray the breadth of work they do, and they have not looked back.
 
Panner’s passion for the industry stems from a family situation in which better patient record sharing systems could have helped, and he responded to HCA News’s questions at length and great detail. As such, the interview is split into two parts. This is the first.
  
First off, just give us a rundown of what AMBRA Health provides and it what its mission is.
 
Ambra Health makes it possible for you to put x-rays and other medical images in the cloud securely, so you can say goodbye to CDs and faxes and use the cloud safely for medical information that you might want to share with family members or usually, more importantly, other physicians or other care providers.
 
The mission is to achieve true interoperability in healthcare to improve the quality of care. Right now, there’s so many silos in healthcare, it really hurts patients and makes it harder for people to obtain the best care possible. We want to break down those barriers.
 
You mention making records more accessible to patients-in what respect are they able to access them, and why is that important?
 
Look at the recent examples that have come out about Apple and about other consumer tech companies moving into healthcare…the age of consumerism in healthcare is here. And I think that’s going to be a positive trend.
 
One of the important things that we do is we give patients access to their x-rays, CAT scans, and MRI studies. Why is that so revolutionary? Just a few years back, it was almost impossible to even view these kinds of diagnostic studies unless you had an expensive, very specific and technical set of equipment. And now, we’ve made it possible with nothing more than a web browser and access to the internet, you can look at the most sophisticated images or send them to another provider to get a second opinion. They don’t need any special equipment, they don’t have to worry if they have the same brand of equipment that was used to take the study. We make it vendor-neutral, so anybody can look at any study at any time. We’ve had neurosurgeons make evaluations from their iPad while they’re waiting for the plane door to close.
 
Can you speak briefly about, in your words, the relationships you have with health systems and the importance of collaboration and interoperability?
 
To give you a perspective on it, we right now have touchpoints on over 900 institutions in the United States. We see more than a million studies uploaded to our cloud in any given month. What we’re able to do is give world-class institutions the ability to partner with providers and patients no matter where they are. If you think about any healthcare provider, one of their biggest challenges is making sure they can get access to patients, and paradoxically patients will say one of their biggest challenges is getting access to the right healthcare provider. And then, once you have access to that person, making sure you have the right care team so that you can get somebody the best quality care.
 
In our system today there are different places that are better at different things. Take, for example, the Mayo Clinic network. That’s a network throughout the country that is designed to let regional institutions to collaborate with the Mayo Clinic, and to let you as a patient access a care team that is an exponential multiplier of the local presence. And that’s really what we’re getting at: you want to be able to have your doctor, but you want to be sure that your doctors have access to the experts. That’s not any different than what you see in a medical school setting, it’s a familiar model to make sure you’re bringing the right expertise to bear. As a patient, you want your physician to be able to do that easily and rapidly.
 
We hear a lot of the people in various corners of health tech speak about medicine kind of being a late adopter to various new-age tech concepts. I hear you speak of medicine getting beaten to the punch on the move to cloud computing, maintaining CDs and paper records for a while. Is there a reason in your mind that the medical community might move more slowly to modernizing?
 
I think two things have held healthcare back. One is concerns about privacy. Let’s face it, healthcare information is just different, and people are pretty reluctant to share information because if you share with the wrong person, the consequences of that can be devastating. I hear that, our privacy is really important. We’ve kind of moved beyond privacy in some crazy way, with Facebook and other social media applications, but people aren’t comfortable doing that in healthcare. One of the things we had to do was develop some patented technology to safeguard the transmission of patient information, so that it actually splits patient information away from some of the healthcare data so you are less likely to reunite that information behind the firewalls, it’s a safer way to do it.
 
The good news is, with people like Mayo and Stanford and Massachusetts General Hospital…they’ve already gone through the security checks now and they are creating the momentum for this change. People trust them, as you should, you trust them when they talk about other developments in healthcare. We can trust those leaders, we’re affiliated with them and we feel good.
 
The second reason why I think healthcare is behind is a little bit less of a positive one. Healthcare business models up until now have really been based on the idea that you “acquire” a patient. If you could get a patient and they were yours, you didn’t want to “lose” the patient. You hear healthcare systems talk about “revenue leakage,” which means a patient will not avail themselves of all your services. But that too is changing, because consumers are driving it, people are taking more control of their healthcare. And we’re also starting to see people looking at value-based care models. You really want to start keeping people healthy, and you want to make sure you’re not duplicating studies that aren’t necessary, and you want to be able to collaborate so that if you have a patient that’s not very sick, you want them in an environment that’s low acuity. If they are very sick, you want them brought to a high-acuity environment more rapidly.
 
We start to see, even in the business models between hospitals, we no longer see them talking to each other as a zero-sum game of ‘that’s my patient, that’s your patient…’.
 
The lack of interoperability has really been what I would call an illegitimate stumbling block that we’re now getting past, thanks to a lot of the pressures that have come about around quality. These aren’t political concerns, but they’re things that the average consumer now, thanks to Dr. Google, thinks of. If I give you access to your imaging, once you have it on our system, you can take that study and share it with any physician you want and they want to be part of the process to navigate you through a care pathway that makes the most sense.
 
How about you personally-what brought you into the field, and what do you like about it?
 
My background is in software, and I understood what the possibilities were for cloud software.
 
And then I had a personal experience as a parent that really drove me to get excited about this business, and in some ways that excitement has never stopped. My son is fine, but when he was younger, he had some health problems. And one of the critical pieces of information always is diagnostic imaging x-rays, and it was very hard to get those to the right expert. I thought to myself ‘This is ridiculous, there’s no other type of information that is so siloed. This is so important to share, why is this happening?’ When the opportunity came to join a group of physicians that had this idea and were looking to commercialize it, it really struck home.
 
In my neighborhood I’m known as the guy for when you have a problem and need to share medical information: ‘that’s the guy who built that system that can do that.’ It really is a very nice way to kind of pay it forward as I look back on what we went through as a family and the frustrations we had in trying to share critical medical information with experts. We really lived it.
 

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