Strategic Advisor, Founder
and Board Chairman
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Terry Edwards, as founder, president and CEO of PerfectServe, has played an instrumental role in evolving the company’s solution from 1999’s version one prototype to today’s product, which has become the most comprehensive and secure care team collaboration platform in the healthcare industry.
Recently, we sat down with Terry to talk about how healthcare communication is changing and how PerfectServe continues to reinvent itself to meet the needs of today’s care teams.
What is PerfectServe?
PerfectServe is a secure cloud‑based communication platform for clinicians. Its focus is to connect doctors and nurses so they can more easily coordinate care.
The thing that makes us unique is a capability that we call Dynamic Intelligent Routing.
This functionality allows us to build algorithms into the platform that automate the communications workflow. This has to do with the “if this, then that” kinds of decisions that are part of a communication process between clinicians to connect the initiator to the right person who can take action at a given moment in time.
We’re like an easy button for clinicians to connect to with each other. By speeding and easing the communications workflow process, we’re able to help them coordinate care more easily.
Communication is such a big part of care. How does PerfectServe define patient care?
The care of a patient is the work of the providers – the doctors, the nurses, the therapists and other ancillary providers. They’re the ones who are interpreting the test results. They’re the ones who are observing and talking to the patients. They’re the hands‑on care providers. Especially in a hospital setting, there’s no one provider – it’s a care team.
Even with certain types of patients, as they transition from the hospital to their home environment, there’s a care team. It may be that the spouse is part of that care team and/or a home care worker as well.
There’s a certain amount of collaboration that needs to occur amongst all of those care team members in order to provide the best care. The ability for them to communicate and connect with the right people for a given situation or a given time of day, that’s the challenge. That’s the piece that we make easy.
What’s on the horizon for healthcare communication? What’s next?
Gartner [a leading research and advisory company], several years ago, coined a term that they call the “real‑time healthcare system.” The real‑time healthcare system is really all about leveraging the increasing amount of digital information inside of a system that’s being created by all these different electronic systems.
If you think back 10, 15 years ago, there was still so much on paper. Now, it’s all electronic. There’s an enormous amount of data that’s being created, but it’s not necessarily being leveraged.
The concept of the real‑time healthcare system is to be able to extract and collect data from these various systems, and then interpret it in ways that can be presented to clinicians, in ways that are relevant to them, so they can take action.
The communications platform serves the unique role of being the engine to receive information from other systems and automatically route a given transaction appropriately based upon the “if/then” variables unique to the situation and recipient. Now, I’m moving beyond person‑to‑person communication.
I’m talking about system‑to‑person communication, where we’re receiving data and then saying, “Oh, this is a critical result and Dr. Smith is the one who needs to get this right now,” and Dr. Smith is the one who can take action. Dr. Smith doesn’t necessarily need to know a whole bunch of other stuff. He just needs to know that.
That’s our role.
As an organization deploys and gets this foundation in place, they have, then, a platform upon which they can begin to automate more and more of these communication workflows to help them provide better care, more efficient care, better quality of care.
As a company, how is PerfectServe evolving to be a platform that can deliver that kind of advanced system-to-person communication?
We’re constantly innovating. When I started PerfectServe over 20 years ago, we were in the physician‑practice office. We started by bringing a technology‑based solution to a human‑centered call answering process, which was just managing phone calls after hours. It was there that we learned about all the complexity in these communication workflows around the doctors.
As time went on and technology evolved, we went from where we were then, which actually was a technology‑enabled services company, to a pure software company. As the Internet expanded, as secure messaging became prominent, texting became prominent, mobile devices became prominent, the Web, etc., we have transformed this company multiple times over the years to take it to where it’s at today.
I expect that we’ll continue transforming into the future.
Could you ever have imagined that it would go from where it was to where it is now?
I knew that it could be a lot bigger when I started it. I had come out of a company called Voice‑Tel in the 1990s. Voice‑Tel was one of the early pioneers in interactive voice messaging. We were a fairly young company. That’s what brought me to Knoxville – starting up the Knoxville operations for Voice‑Tel.
Voice‑Tel was in probably 120 different markets around the United States, as well as into Canada, and down into Australia. We were, at that time, doing over the phone with voice messages what we do with texting and email today. It was a great time. Those were early days of pre‑Internet or when the Internet was just within government and education.
I saw how big Voice‑Tel was, and I knew that PerfectServe could be that big. I didn’t know that it would evolve or turn into what it is today, which is phenomenal.
What separates PerfectServe from other competitors in the marketplace?
I would take it back to that Dynamic Intelligent Routing capability. In most every successful business, there’s something the people in that business know, or there’s an idea they have, that nobody else knows or even thinks exists.
The thing we know is that there is inherent complexity in these communication workflows. And I’m surprised nobody else has figured this out yet, I really am. This is because physicians, departments in a hospital or care teams have ways in which they need to receive information.
It’s not just freeform, everybody’s texting each other, because we’re dealing with what can be life‑threatening information. You don’t just fling a text out to somebody. You need communication processes that are reliable, that are accurate, where you know you can get a message or a call to the right person who is going to take action.
You’ve got to understand and appreciate the workflows of these various groups, then you need software to automate it. If you don’t have that, then you don’t solve the problem. That’s one of the issues with the secure chat capabilities that the EMR companies are trying to bring to the market or some of the other secure texting mobile applications that are just too simple.
They work well for small groups of people who know each other, but they don’t work well across a large enterprise or across organizations. That’s where the process falls down and we have the messy, unsafe communication processes that we have today.
How is Dynamic Intelligent Routing different from some of our competitors’ role-based routing capabilities?
With Dynamic Intelligent Routing, we’re building algorithms that can look at multiple variables that need to be considered in a specific communication process. That differs, for example, from role‑based routing, where someone just is in a role at a given time, because the role could change based on other conditions.
For example, some of the variables that might play into a Dynamic Intelligent Routing calculation include the originating location. Where is this call or text message originating from? What organization or facility? Who is the originator? Maybe, what was that originator’s role? What is the time? What is the day? What is the department as well if it’s an acute care environment? What’s the clinical situation? Then, based on some of those things, what call schedule should we be considering? Is there more than one call schedule that needs to be considered at a given moment in time?
All of that is just to tell us ‘who’ we need to contact. Once we have determined that and we know who it needs to receive it, then the question is how do we communicate with them? Are we delivering a secure message or are we having to send a page because secure messaging isn’t going to work in this particular environment?
If a message is taken or left and it’s not read within a certain amount of time, what do we do to escalate it? That’s what Dynamic Intelligent Routing is. It’s about being able to think through and design those processes, and then being able to process those interactions in real time, automatically to get the right communication to the right person in a way that he or she should be reached.
Imagine I work at a medical group that’s considering using PerfectServe. Why should I sign up?
We’re going to facilitate or enable your communication processes and optimize those for the way in which you work. What that means to you is you’re going to get only the information you should receive, when you should receive it and upon which you should take action.
You’re not bombarded with things that don’t matter, that are irrelevant. You’re not going to be contacted when you shouldn’t be and interrupted, for example. You’re not going to have messages languish that could create a liability for you if you don’t respond, because we’ll build resilience and fail‑safe into those processes.
We’ll probably be able to save you some money, too.