The other day I was reading an article on the HIT Consultant website called 10 Steps To A Blockbuster Health IT Startup. Who, in my position, wouldn’t want to read this article? This is a fantastic title and, of course, I wanted to see how many of the 10 steps I had already taken. Much to my surprise, I was able to check off the first six steps and part of the next three. As I was helping my wife cook dinner that night I kept thinking about how I needed to get back and read that article again. Had I really come this far, and more excitedly, what is holding me back from taking the next BIG step forward?
By day, I am a pharmacist. I work full time in an out-patient clinic pharmacy. This is a very rewarding environment to work in as a pharmacist. We are open 9-5:30 Monday through Friday and closed on weekends; unheard of hours for a pharmacist. We are not riddled with performance metrics as so many pharmacies are these days. I have ample technician help and patients always get the necessary time with the pharmacist for the medication counseling they need.
By night, I am a health information technology (HIT) entrepreneur. This is a difficult and lonely plight. I find myself sleepy, excited, hopeful and frustrated all within a five minute time frame. Regardless, this is the path I have chosen; or more likely, this is the path that has chosen me.
Twenty-three months ago I had an idea. I remember it clearly. There was a patient on the hospital campus that was here with a friend. They walked into our pharmacy and saw that there was no one at the counseling counter so they stepped up and asked to speak with the pharmacist. I approached the counter and the patient said they had received a prescription in the mail and they had some questions about the medication. I first explained the importance of developing a relationship with one specific community pharmacy so they know your medication profile and are able to look out for your pharmaceutical interest. Then, because we are an independent pharmacy and always looking to serve more patients, I said, “I’ll be glad to help you with your question.”
That was it! I had found my Blue Ocean. I was so excited that afternoon and night I couldn’t sleep. I stayed up searching and searching on the internet, trying to find anything remotely similar to what I had thought of. Quite a few times that night, and the following couple weeks, I found programs that initially sounded similar; however, after evaluating them they were not similar at all.
So it began. Over the following weeks I began the process of developing my HIT product, building a website, searching for a business name, and reading books and blogs about how to bring my product to market. In my particular situation, I learned that blogging about the topic on a regular basis would be an invaluable asset. After reading many different articles about blogging, I set a goal for myself to blog about my particular subject twice weekly for the following 12 months.
After a few weeks, I fell into a reasonable routine waking up early to work on building my product and managing my website. One of the weekend days would be used for catching up on any necessary blogging. I find that when I sit at the computer, it doesn’t take much for me to get side tracked following all of the e-health on social media. When I finally realized that if I took my laptop and set it down at the dining room table, rather than at my desk, I was much more likely to stay focused on the task at hand. Fortunately, I have a very understanding wife who has supported me throughout this entire process.
By the end of one full year I had built a significant amount of product, blogged nearly twice weekly the entire year, and created a strong internet presence on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, and yes, the all-important LinkedIn. I’m not sure what I thought was going to happen. My company had not been purchased by any big corporate entity, my wife had grown weary of reading my blogs, and I was tired from getting up so early all those months. That said, I had made tremendous progress and, surprisingly, my desire to continue the process had only strengthened.
Now that I had completed my short term goal, what was next? After some more reading and research, I learned that I needed to form some alliances in my particular field. It was about this time that I stumbled upon RxEconsult on Twitter. After reading quite a few of the articles and viewing many profiles, I took the plunge and submitted my first article. Much to my surprise, it was well accepted and appreciated. I found that RxEconsult is a great forum for putting my writing in front of a large number of health care professionals in a short time frame. By making a concerted effort to reply, respond, comment, and yes, post on a regular basis to RxEconsult and other social media sites, I have formed quite a few health care friends.
I need to digress for a moment to discuss the importance of protecting intellectual property (IP). In the beginning, I attempted to contact the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) and complete a patent-pending application for the HIT process I am developing. After three attempts, I finally completed the initial process. A few months after that I went through the process of trying to complete a Utility Process patent application on my own. Please, don’t waste your time trying to do this without a lawyer. After interviewing three different IP lawyers, I found one that was as excited about my new utility process as I was. At this point, my job was to write a check and let him handle all of the legal process. To date, we are 14 months into the patent process, have had one rejection-turn around and are hopeful we will have approval within the next 12-18 months.
Here I am, almost two years into this project. I have invested over 2000 hours of my time building product, developing website, blogging and building a strong health care professional network. My wife and I have invested thousands of dollars of our savings into our business and we are both confident that what we have founded is a unique concept. What is keeping me from taking the next BIG step, forging that important relationship with a big sponsor, asking for investor money, paying to have a real mobile application developed, and pitching my program to the big league?
Simple answer, I’m comfortable. This has been an issue with pharmacists as long as I can remember. I have been practicing for 26 years now, and see it over and over. Most pharmacists work 40 hours a week and make a decent living. This process allows me the comfort of funding myself (albeit, rather slowly), and takes the pressure off of needing to have a product to market in order to send my kids to college.
I will keep getting up at 4:30 a.m. and developing product. I will continue to blog and maintain a presence in the social media health care world. I currently have quite a few individual members and am working on signing a group contract membership with a company. If I continue to follow this process, I am confident that at some point, in the not too distant future, I will be pitching my program to the HIT big league.
I welcome comments from other HIT entrepreneurs. How did you take your product from idea to market?
About The Author
Steve Leuck, Pharm.D., is President/Owner of AudibleRx. AudibleRx provides OBRA 90 based Medication Specific Counseling Sessions in digital/audio format. After a patient or caregiver listens to a counseling session, they will have a clear idea of what they do and don’t know about their medications so they may take educated questions back to their own health care professional.
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