Jeff Wessinger, General Manager Life Sciences, PointClickCare

Jeff Wessinger knows what it takes to create a solution. As an experienced software executive with a demonstrated history of working in health care technology and services, his background in systems engineering, and experience in the pharmaceutical industry, inspired an ongoing pursuit of innovative, research-driven data solutions in the health care space.

Wessinger joined his younger brothers, PointClickCare founders Mike and Dave, with the mission of helping them bring more value to their EHR clients through alternative growth strategies. This mission is largely driven by Jeff’s leadership for PointClickCare’s Lighthouse initiative — which connects the company’s vast database of therapy and treatment information with life sciences companies, industry advocates and government agencies.

In this Vision Series interview, Wessinger shares his outlook for care continuum collaboration in the post-pandemic landscape and beyond. He also addresses the most prevalent challenges and opportunities related to working with care continuum partners, as well as the technological innovations that have made that cross-continuum care model possible.

This is the Vision Series. What is your vision for a health care system that truly is equipped to serve the aging population? What does that look like to you?

I think any health care system that has a vision that’s worthwhile has to ultimately have a goal of improving patient outcomes. Whether it’s a health system designed to put patients at the center, the EHR for the caregivers, or if it’s a way of connecting to the companies that are innovating therapies that could solve some of these diseases, the goal has to be in improving the quality of life or the life expectancy of these patients.

I imagine a world with digitization. I imagine — and this may not be too far off — the possibility of a patient who has a device that passively captures information as opposed to someone else having to enter it into a keyboard.

[This device] passively captures their vitals or speech information or image information that can all be used through various AI technologies to diagnose certain diseases. [The goal is to] seamlessly feed that information back to the EHR, and then have the EHR automatically alert caregivers and constituents to the health care problem, as opposed to the EHR being merely a data entry mechanism.

All the while, we would have this information tracked and anonymously fed to a pharma or medical device company that’s innovating this very same therapy so that they can know that there may be a patient who could be involved in a clinical trial, or at the very least a patient who may benefit from their therapy and start that process. I see it as connecting digital health, EHR capabilities and clinical trial capabilities to seamlessly provide the best care possible for a specific patient.

Do you think it realistically is within a matter of months or perhaps years?

I think with everything that’s happening through COVID this may not be as far off as we think. These devices are proliferating at a very high rate. Because a lot of this technology exists in disparate locations, there are a lot of very innovative technology companies that are inventing it in separate locations. I think to truly benefit the entire population, [those devices] need to work together. Where we may have a very good technology for diagnosing specific neurologic conditions through speech and health itself, it’s disconnected from another technology that may be able to understand stroke from a visual image.

These are two different technologies, but I think what needs to happen is that they need to come together in a passive way within one device so that you can do the whole diagnostic [process] at once, kind of like the Startrek scanner. I think digital health is nowhere close to being that advanced, but I think that’s where it’s going to go. It’s very advanced at predicting one condition or another in various areas, but none of it is put together. It becomes a communication problem in tying these systems together and making them work seamlessly to achieve that result.

What’s your background that led you to this point in your career?

It was a funny thing. I’m a systems engineer by background. My two brothers [Mike and Dave] are the founders of PointClickCare. I’m their older brother. My first job when I graduated was building an EHR system that happened to be the one that Mike first started selling when he graduated. After that, I ended up working in pharma and then working for technology companies that supported life sciences. I went from Bayer Pharmaceuticals to the CRM provider Siebel, which Oracle acquired. Then I founded my own software company that did sales and marketing automation technology for pharmaceutical customers.

I had a lot of experience inside and serving the pharmaceutical industry. Understanding what the EHR information, specifically anonymized patient information, could do in terms of helping with research was something I knew would be very helpful. That’s our initial foray with Lighthouse — providing anonymized data so we can understand what’s ailing patients and how to correct it. 

Subsequent to that, if we can help them try some of these solutions with clinical trial recruitment or clinical trial participation, I think there’s a huge gap and need to solve that problem. We haven’t gotten there yet, but like in those two examples, there are many ways and many reasons that these two industries should be connected.

PointClickCare has been integral in breaking down health care silos. Can you share what you do with the Lighthouse endeavor and how it works? 

Lighthouse is effectively an initiative to connect PointClickCare more directly with life sciences companies. Traditionally, PointClickCare has been a solution that’s meant for providers. We provide EHR software primarily to long-term health care providers, that being skilled nursing facilities or assisted living facilities.

We have since branched off to health care coordination with acute care facilities and transferring data through our main initiative. From that, we understood that we can do a lot of good through partnering with the pharmaceutical companies or medical device companies that are inventing new therapies and new diagnostics. Lighthouse is an initiative to connect with that part of the health care ecosystem.

Care transitions is another big area of focus for people who may be receiving care in different health care systems and settings. What can individual care providers do to help facilitate that communication and connection?

I think it all boils down to information. It’s why we embarked on the Harmony project [at PointClickCare]. It’s why we bought Collective Medical. A lot can be lost in the transitions between these care settings, so what can they do? I think one of the things in the CARES Act that will help foster this is to help put the patient or a patient advocate in the center of care and allow them to be a part of their care program. [The goal is to] provide them with the information — maybe through technology — and in return, receive information from them that’s relevant for their caregiver or for people in that ecosystem who are willing to help. To me, it’s all about information and networking that information so that you get the best available care.

I think the one thing that [we’ve] been missing in the past is the patients themselves. We got a lot of information that’s being entered by nurses, by physicians, by other parts of the reimbursement ecosystem, but the patient’s information, at least as it’s coming directly from them, is noticeably absent. I think that getting them more involved is the first thing. From a technology perspective, [we need to] either get these disparate systems to speak together, or come up with a common language for them to speak. There are various initiatives that are attempting to do that, but I’d say none of them are working very well yet.

It comes down to not missing things. Things get missed and lack of care or worse outcomes is the result. [A patient gets] the wrong medication or gets no medication at all. Sometimes these people are not able to advocate for themselves. It’s all about information and connecting that information.

What do you think is the biggest opportunity right now for providers of housing and care for the aging population and what do they need to do differently in order to execute on that opportunity?

I think there are many opportunities. With respect to technology, I think it’s embracing a lot of these e-health initiatives — embracing technology to capture these vitals or the different diagnostics that they are capable of now. I think it’s an opportunity to get better information and potentially remove a lot of the data entry burden or the administrative burden to get that information that was required in the past. I think they can reduce labor and increase information value at the same time. In the end, it provides better care with less work.

Tell me a little more about Lighthouse and how are you actually going about gathering the patient data. Is it all through the EHR? It’s anonymous but do people have to opt into it? 

They do. The facilities themselves or the organizations that own the facilities are what’s called a covered entity. The covered entity has certain rights and obligations to the PHI [personal health information]. As an EHR provider, we are what’s called the business associate. With our customers that have opted in, we have what’s called the business associate agreement. That allows us to aggregate the data, anonymize it, and make it available for specific use cases like research for pharma.

That’s what we’ve done. We’ve extracted the patient information from the 65% of organizations that allow us to do it, anonymized it and put it in one place. For customers who want it, we’ve made it available to them on a disease-by-disease basis. It’s like a syndicated data product that we refresh on a monthly or quarterly basis, and they perform what’s called Real World Evidence Research on.

Is there anything that you can share in terms of outcomes or success stories that have actually resulted from this work?

Yes, I’ll share one from early on. We work with one large pharma company that has a therapy that is indicated for Parkinson’s disease psychosis. Undiagnosed, if patients just get the psychosis part or the Parkinson’s part, they are commonly treated with anti-psychotics, and sometimes very strong anti-psychotics that basically put them to sleep, which is a much higher cost for the facility, and a lot more burden of care.

The fact of the matter is, if they’re properly diagnosed, there are therapies that can be used that are not anti-psychotic-based, so the patient’s quality of life can be improved. They can have a somewhat normal life. In addition to selling the data so they could do research, the first success story was that we also put a screening tool inside of the EHR.

They wanted to get answers to specific questions for these patients that we didn’t necessarily have — sort of a prospective trial. We put the screening tool inside of the EHR so that the caregivers could go through it and diagnose these patients properly. It’s a small population, but we were able to get additional diagnosis and basically save a few of these patients from their anti-psychotic therapy, which is a big problem in the U.S.

They also believe that their medication is good for dementia-based psychosis, which they don’t yet have a label for. Through our database, we found that their product was being written and prescribed to patients who didn’t have Parkinson’s. Through Real World Research, we can now determine that it was very effective in those patient populations.

Under the FDA, if you publish a research paper and submit it, they’ll allow a label change simply on Real World evidence. While that hasn’t happened yet with this pharma company we work with, that is the intention, so they could be much more early on than expected without running a complete placebo-based double blind clinical trial. They could get approval for dementia-based psychosis. Those are the two good things that are happening.

What are the policy implications that you see beyond that? Are there other things that you have a vision for in terms of PointClickCare’s role in collecting this data and changing the trajectory?

I don’t know that we’re interested necessarily in changing policy, but definitely supporting it. We think the CARES Act is a good thing. I think putting the patient at the center of everything makes a lot of sense. We think the HIPAA legislation and the rules that guide sharing patient information are absolutely acceptable so we’re living within them right now. As far as I’m concerned, we’re not really looking to change policy. We don’t see any that are big barriers right now.

Companies featured in this article:
Life Sciences, PointClickCare
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