Incubator Hatches Physician Businesses
Practice Management Feature – September 2013
Tex Med. 2013;109(9):47-50.
By Crystal Zuzek
Jake Childers, MD, an Austin Regional Clinic (ARC) family physician, found out he had rheumatoid arthritis about eight years ago. Rather than letting his illness derail him, he was inspired by his experience with treating and managing his disease to start a business.
After learning he had rheumatoid arthritis during his residency, Dr. Childers took an active role in comanaging his illness with his rheumatologist and became an expert in the disease. He says he read every rheumatology journal and article available and constantly looked for insight into his disease and its effects on his body.
"I embraced outside-the-box thinking in pursuit of an outlier outcome. It turns out that many of my treatment decisions were, in essence, seven-year leading indicators on how early rheumatoid arthritis is currently managed," he said.
This knowledge and his remission inspired him to found n=you, LLC, an online platform that allows physicians to share information about how they're managing their own chronic conditions. Providing powerful research tools, disease tracking, and contact with a physician community of colleagues, n=you allows for analysis of outlier outcomes while generating novel insights into disease treatment and management.
From his diagnosis to his remission, Dr. Childers continually examined his unique experience in managing his rheumatoid arthritis.
"I wondered what could be learned from others who battled their diseases with the same scientific knowledge and advantages I had," he said.
This curiosity inspired him to develop n=you, with the belief that other physicians should also have the opportunity to advance disease understanding in search of outlier outcomes. Dr. Childers says he needs physicians with chronic conditions to register to use n=you.
"Initially, my focus is reaching physicians in Texas. Eventually, I'd like physicians across the United States and all over the world to sign up and participate. By studying a small number of sophisticated people in depth, I hope to find pearls of wisdom for disease treatment and management that can be extrapolated across a larger patient population," he said.
The website is currently set up for physicians with rheumatoid arthritis, but Dr. Childers says the system can accommodate users with other diseases.
"The infrastructure has been built to adapt to other disease information. If we get a group of physician users with Parkinson's disease, for instance, we can easily tweak the platform for them," he said.
Dr. Childers is executive director of the Walters Physician Incubator, a new Austin-based venture designed to help physician entrepreneurs or "doctorpreneurs," created by the husband-wife physician team that developed DocbookMD.
Tim Gueramy, MD, and Tracey Haas, DO, started the Walters Physician Incubator, named after the late Robert Walters, MD, last March. What began as a forum where physicians could share their business ideas has morphed into a circle of trust where members can connect with business professionals, such as attorneys and investors, who can help them reach their objectives.
Dr. Gueramy describes the incubator as "a sounding board for people who haven't experienced the business development process."
"The Walters Physician Incubator is a great place for physicians to learn more about business development, share their successes and setbacks in the process, and access the resources that will help take their ideas to the next level. We wanted to come up with a good way for physicians to get their ideas to a point where they can be plugged into mainstream incubators," Dr. Gueramy said.
After Drs. Gueramy and Haas launched DocbookMD in 2009, physician colleagues began sharing their business ideas with them and seeking guidance. That's when they started thinking about forming an incubator solely for doctorpreneurs.
DocbookMD is an app for iPhone and Android phones and iPad and iPod touch that is free for Texas Medical Association members. It allows physicians to transmit secure messages and images to one another in ways that meet Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) encryption and security requirements.
Drs. Gueramy and Haas established the incubator to honor Dr. Walters, their friend and an Austin hand surgeon who inspired many physician entrepreneurs. He died just days after he finished his patent application for a new thumb joint. The incubator has supported the Walters family in acquiring the patent Dr. Walters worked on so tirelessly.
"We took the initiative to turn an idea into a business because Dr. Walters pushed us to do it. Now we're giving back to the physician entrepreneur community by doing for them what Dr. Walters did for us," Dr. Gueramy said.
The incubator had 33 members as of July. The Travis County Medical Society and TMA sponsored an inaugural event in June at the TMA building to introduce physicians interested in entrepreneurship to the incubator.
"TMA's support for innovation in medicine is good for physicians. The association has been a great partner for the incubator," Dr. Haas said.
The incubator's participants meet on the fourth Tuesday of each month at the TMA building from 6 pm to 8 pm.
Physicians interested in attending a meeting and learning more about the incubator can visit the website. Click on "Events" to access the meeting schedule, and click on "Join" to express interest in becoming a member.
Incubator Helps Doctorpreneurs
At the June launch event, Dr. Walters' family made brief remarks about his patent work and the incubator's ability to help other physicians achieve their business goals. Four doctorpreneur members of the incubator showcased their innovations and talked about their business development experiences.
Roger Moczygemba, MD, a San Antonio occupational medicine physician, says the incubator inspired him to expand his business, MyQuickDoc.
"With any new venture, it can be a struggle to keep going. Entrepreneurs pull all the weight, so it's nice to have a place to meet with like-minded people who are in different stages of the same process. We can encourage one another and can network to find funding resources and other help to move forward with our ideas," he said.
Dr. Moczygemba says he got the idea for MyQuickDoc when he was trying to attract patients to his practice.
"I thought if patients could schedule an appointment with me online, then I'd promise to see them on time. After I advertised the idea, I began to realize the value in what I was doing for employers. When workers are injured, they're on the clock when they visit the doctor," he said. "Employers are willing to pay a little extra to ensure their employees can be seen on time."
Employers and individual patients can pay $20 to use MyQuickDoc to schedule an appointment. In exchange, the physician receives a portion of the $20 and promises to see the patient at the scheduled time – no waiting. Dr. Moczygemba launched MyQuickDoc.com in February and plans to offer the service to patients and physicians across the country.
"To achieve my ultimate goal, what I need at this point is a little more funding and the right business relationships to expand," Dr. Moczygemba said.
Andy Joshi, MD, an Austin physical medicine and rehabilitation physician, spoke at the incubator event about his Avatar-Based Training Programs. He began working on the concept in 2011 and tested the product on his practice employees.
"We've been using the training programs in the office for several months, and the staff members seem to really enjoy interacting with them. We have noticed improved confidence and staff productivity since implementing the training programs," he said.
Dr. Joshi developed Avatar-Based Training Programs in response to a need for an employee training tool that was engaging and customizable. The programs feature avatars that interact with users and educate them on HIPAA compliance and office procedures. Dr. Joshi says he's currently in the beta testing phase and is seeking new users. For more information about Avatar-Based Training Programs, visit www.paincarephysicians.com and click on "Contact Us."
"When I joined the Walters Physician Incubator, the members pointed me in the right direction and helped me establish timelines for realizing my idea. I was also excited that other members want to use my product in their own practices," he said.
Making Valuable Connections
Dr. Haas says the incubator strives to link members with appropriate resources to help them succeed.
"We have speakers come in at the beginning of each meeting. Some represent angel networks or venture capital firms, for example. Those with experience raising funds offer advice to new entrepreneurs about how to go about it smartly," she said.
Larry Kravitz, MD, an ARC family physician and member of the incubator, started working on the Anderson Knee Brace Project in 2007 with the help of his son's high school robotics class, which built three prototypes of the brace.
"The students attended a series of lectures that brought them up to speed on anatomy and physiology, built specific parts for the brace, and tested the prototypes on an artificial leg simulator over the course of two years," Dr. Kravitz said.
He told attendees of the incubator event in June that he got the idea to develop a knee brace after injuring his foot and wearing a boot while he healed.
"The walking boot used for feet forms a sling that holds the foot off the ground. It took so much of the pain away that I thought we needed a device that would do the same for the knee," he said.
The knee brace can be particularly helpful for patients suffering from joint pain due to osteoarthritis and can help runners and others continue in their athletic pursuits, Dr. Kravitz says.
"It's a daily frustration practicing medicine and seeing how little we have to offer osteoarthritis patients," he said.
The Walters Physician Incubator connected Dr. Kravitz to corporate and patent attorneys and has guided him along the path to realizing his goal: making the brace available to patients.
"My hope is that the incubator connects me and other members to the people who can help us achieve our goals," he said.
The incubator concept is popular among the physician community because physicians need a forum for discussing their ideas with other physicians, Dr. Childers says.
"On any given day, a physician colleague expresses to me how great it would be to do things a different way or to have a new device to help patients. The incubator is a way for physicians to realize their brilliant ideas, and they feel comfortable brainstorming with other physicians," Dr. Childers said.
Thomas Kim, MD, an Austin psychiatrist, is the incubator's director of medical technology. At the inaugural event, he encouraged physicians to take advantage of the invaluable mentorship opportunities the incubator provides. The incubator's potential to foster budding doctorpreneurs' business concepts abounds, Dr. Haas says.
"We hope that through TMA we'll be able to get the word out about the incubator to the rest of the state. Perhaps there will eventually be spinoffs of the group in other cities as demand grows. We currently have doctors who drive in from San Antonio and Houston to attend meetings," she said.
Crystal Zuzek can be reached by telephone at (800) 880-1300, ext. 1385, or (512) 370-1385; by fax at (512) 370-1629; or by email.
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