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Calgary’s Next Economy: Ava Industries wants patients, docs first with new electronic medical records platform

Two Calgary family doctors – and entrepreneurs – are putting their experience to work building an online medical records system that fixes the “disaster” that many docs face daily.

Drs. Matt Henschke and Mike Forseth of Ava Industries met while working in the same clinic roughly four years ago.

They, like many other doctors, struggled with out-of-date, poorly designed electronic medical records systems (EMRs). Henschke and Forseth knew there was a better way.

“All of the medical record systems that we use, everyone complains about them,” Henschke said.

“They’re all a disaster. They’re impossible to use.”

The pair, with eyes on starting their own clinic, went about perfecting a better electronic medical records system. They envisioned a different type of practice that puts the patient first – along with their own well being.

Henschke, the company’s CEO and lead programmer, actually took on computer programming during med school. It was a self-taught side hustle.

“I really didn’t love my medical school experience. And it wasn’t until residency that I really enjoyed practicing medicine,” he said.

“So, during medical school, for me, I was sort of thinking, ‘well, shoot, I have a lot of student loans. What, what else can I do with this, that’s not going to burn you out in five years.’”

He needed a project.

“One of the easiest ways to learn is to work on a project of your own,” Henschke said.

Why not build a new electronic medical records system, right?

Initially it was a project to see if he could build something useable. He worked on it for 18 months. That’s when Henschke and Forseth, along with another doctor, branched out on their own.  It was the perfect opportunity to launch this in their own clinic.

There’s easily a few, if not several dozen’

Forseth, the company’s Chief Operating Officer, said most of the software they’re using for electronic medical records is 15-years or older.

When asked about the problems with them, he was frank.

“There’s easily a few (problems), if not several dozen,” he said.

He said the workflow built into them has no purpose because they were designed as databases.

“They just add more and more buttons without thinking about the user experience,” he said.

“They’re usually built by non-medical people.”

Forseth said they’ve been testing their system now for the past four years. They’re ironing out the kinks in their own work environment. They’re making improvements daily in an ongoing, real-world feedback loop.

They said, one of the big advantages of what they’re doing is patient integration. Forseth said current systems put no thought into patients accessing records, making bookings online, direct messaging with doctors, tracking referrals.

With their system, it’s something they can easily access from their phone.

“We spend our whole day trying to manage their health details, but they’re not integrated on the technology side at all,” he said.

“Patients are actually a key part of our workflow.”

The solution: Minimize clicks

Forseth said it was amazing how just spending time on making it intuitive could actually reduce the time spent with the records.

“It’s funny the amount of value you can create for users just by sort of the workflow and putting a button in the right spot,” he said.  

He said doctors do five key things during the day.

“And most EMRs do 40 things in too complex of a fashion,” Forseth said.

Henschke said that quite often you have to jump between multiple screens to get one or two tasks done.

“That’s really frustrating. And we found that it really slows things down from a workflow perspective,” he said.

Henschke and Forseth want doctors to do 80 per cent of their work from one or two screens.

“Our overarching goal is that if you can do the same repetitive 80 per cent of work from about two of your screens, then we’ve saved people a lot of time,” Henschke said.

“Whether that means that they have more time with their families, or whether that’s they have more time for their practice, and they can fit in a few extra patients – however, they want to use that time.”

The uphill climb

Forseth said that Telus has about roughly 80 per cent market share in the electronic medical records systems. The other player is Loblaws, he said.

At one time there were more medical records players, but they were swallowed up by the big guys and migrated into the EMR mainframes.

Both Henschke and Forseth said for clinics to get out of their current systems can cost them thousands. In some cases, it can cost a physician $2,000 to migrate records to a new provider. In a clinic with a half dozen doctors, that’s $12,000 they need to come up with.

Not to mention the bigger players are a little cozier with the provincial health system.

“We’re kind of at the point where we know that there’s a huge frustration in the marketplace,” said Henschke.

“Any doctor that you talk to is going to tell you that they hate their medical records platform.”

He said there’s a movement toward making the patient the centre of their health data.

Being a part of Platform Calgary’s Junction program is giving these Calgary family doctors the business tools to move ahead.  

“We’ve encountered a lot of unknown unknowns,” Henschke said.

Their goal is to expand outside Alberta. They want to build out the patient side of the programming. 

In three years, they want to be in all of the provinces. They’ve already had unsolicited requests from other countries.

“We really want to get our product out there so that we can actually help these clinics, both financially, but also survive from a burnout and moral injury side of things,” Henschke said.