By: Steve Metzer The Journal Record
Full article available at Journalrecord.com
It’s the kind of company people might expect to find in Silicon Valley or in high-tech Austin or Boston.But this company leveraging technology to change the world is in Oklahoma City – and not even in a big office building downtown, but in a smallish brick building on the city’s far southern edge. No doubt thousands of people drive by PatientLink Enterprises every day never realizing its important place at the intersection of medicine and technology.
PatientLink Enterprises has been around for about 20 years, but its founder and chief executive officer, Debi Willis, still sometimes refers to it as “the best little unknown company there is.”
Willis, a software engineer turned entrepreneur, started the company in Kansas City, where in her former life she worked at the Kansas City branch of the Federal Reserve Bank. She said it was a conversation she had with a doctor one day that changed everything. They started talking about how medical professionals and hospitals were transitioning more and more away from paper record keeping in favor of files stored on computers. As their conversation continued it turned to how digitization was really going to change everything, likely to speed up in dramatic ways the evolution of patient care and medical research – and valuable new players in the future were likely to be software engineers.
Willis was hooked. She started thinking about how software could be written to make medical record keeping easier and less time-consuming, how accuracy and accessibility could be improved, how records could be made portable and instantly transferrable from office to office and even around the world.
“I love learning where there’s a need and then building something to solve that need,” she said.
So, she started shadowing doctors and nurses, observing and learning about how data was collected and kept, and thinking about how digitization would improve processes. It didn’t happen overnight, but the eventual result was PatientLink.
Fast-forward a few years. Willis has moved back to Oklahoma City, where she lived prior to Kansas City. She now employs 15 software engineers and other professionals, and PatientLink® Scanning and PatientLink® Online are now used by thousands of physicians at hundreds of hospitals and clinics across the country. The software allows a patient to provide information for their Electronic Health Records (EHR) before even going to a doctor’s office, using a smartphone or other device; or, the patient might still provide information on paper while sitting in a doctor’s waiting room. Either way, the information is easily scanned or transmitted electronically, flowing as discrete, structured data into their EHRs.
And, there’s a great “Part 2” to the story.
It was another conversation Willis had with a doctor that changed everything. This time it was about kidney cancer – her own. Determined to beat it, Willis resolved first to find out everything she could about the disease. She wanted to study and come to understand her own medical records. She also wanted to connect with another woman in Oklahoma City who was sick in the same way, to share information and get some ideas about what to expect.
She soon found out that it wasn’t easy for a person to access even their own medical records – especially comprehensive files that might be kept by several doctors or facilities. That discovery – along with a desire that grew in intensity as she battled through her cancer to contribute in some way to finding a cure – led to the creation of MyLinks.
“For the past two decades, we (had) been writing software to help doctors understand more about us (patients), so they could take better care of us,” Willis said. “We decided it was time to write software to help us understand more about our health so we could be empowered to take better care of ourselves and those we love. After losing my sister to brain cancer and my mother to Alzheimer’s, I wanted to connect with researchers too, to understand what they are doing to solve these devastating illnesses and what I could do to help.”
MyLinks® was developed as an interactive platform that allows people to import their medical records from various doctors into their own personal health record (PHR). It’s special because it was built using the Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR) standard adopted by the federal government, which calls on health care providers not only to make PHRs accessible to people but also to make it free and easy. Notably, when the government invited companies like Willis’s to compete in a “Consumer Health Data Aggregator Challenge” she entered MyLinks and won. And, it’s worth noting that the “the best little unknown company there is” went up against some high-profile competitors from places like Silicon Valley and Boston.
Willis said she believes something that made her company stand out is that it’s not driven as much by money as it is by an extreme focus on people – improving patient outcomes and contributing to research that hopefully will save lives.
“Had I not been persistent with my doctors, I would be dead now,” Willis said. “My journey showed me that we as patients need to be more involved.”
MyLinks allows patients to take more active roles in their own health care by allowing them to easily retrieve their medical records from all of their health care providers. Tragically, Willis said lack of complete information and incorrect information in medical records are leading causes of death in the country, so greater access to them might very well help people to save their own lives. Another great benefit is that the free – though highly secure – flow of data allows not just for more productive exchanges between patients and doctors but also between patients and other patients and researchers.
Willis said she believes that patients having electronic access to their full medical records will have an even greater impact on health outcomes in the future than physicians’ use of electronic health records. And, her hope is that it will lead to speedier cures for diseases like cancer and Alzheimer’s.
“I believe the reason why we can’t find cures faster is that all of our data is fractured,” Willis said. “We want to empower MyLinks® users to join the race…to get us to the finish line faster.”