Former Alegent Health Chief Executive Officer Wayne Sensor is back in Omaha to lead a small but growing health software firm, saying he wants to help people avoid the experience his family had when his mother suffered a stroke three years ago.
Sensor said that when his mother was being released from the hospital, his 90-year-old father was given just a day to find a nursing home for her, with little help or advice about what facility could meet her health care needs.
“My dad was in a state of panic,” Sensor said. Fortunately, as a health executive, he knew what to ask for on his father’s behalf, but he said, “I feel really sorry for families that don’t have that insight.”
Now CEO of Ensocare, Sensor is promising rapid growth for the company’s suite of software products that, among other features, aim to help hospitals better coordinate care as a patient is discharged from the hospital and goes home or to a nursing home.
The goal is to reduce unnecessary readmissions. Hospitals are now being penalized under the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, if too many of their patients are readmitted within 30 days after treatment for heart attacks, pneumonia or heart failure. The penalties will grow in 2015 and could expand to include more types of health problems.
Ensocare doesn’t provide health care; the company says its suite of four software tools helps hospitals line up post-acute care for patients, track patient care after discharge, identify patients at risk of readmission and save money. The tools also allow families, patients and caregivers to connect to track and coordinate care with hospitals and doctors. And Ensocare will help hospitals collect and analyze data so they can study trends in readmissions, outcomes and patient satisfaction.
It’s one of numerous businesses that have been established or expanded in Omaha and around the country since the health care law was passed. The field of health care information technology in particular is growing, thanks to Obamacare and the earlier HITECH Act, which in 2009 appropriated almost $26 billion to modernize the health care system by expanding use of health information technology.
By 2012, 44 percent of hospitals had a basic electronic health record system, up from 27 percent the year earlier, according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. And 72 percent of office-based physicians were using the systems by 2012, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Ensocare will be competing in a big and growing field: HealthcareIT News reported that the global market for health care IT applications is expected to grow at 7 percent a year to $57 billion by 2017.
The move is a big change for Sensor, who as CEO of the Alegent Health system oversaw 8,600 employees and 10 hospitals among other facilities. Ensocare has just 34 employees (up from 21 two years ago) and is being used by fewer than 100 hospital systems. But Sensor said that’s just the beginning.
“There’s no place professionally that I would rather be than leading the growth of this young, exciting company that I think has a product that will help hospitals and hospital administrators deal with tough challenges,” he said.
Sensor left Omaha for Salt Lake City after resigning as Alegent’s CEO in 2009, before it became Alegent Creighton. His resignation followed votes of no confidence from doctors at Alegent system hospitals after his administration moved to hire more hospital-employed doctors, a move unwelcomed by independent physicians.
He went to work as a partner and managing director at Leavitt Partners, a firm that advises clients on the future of health care and was founded by former Secretary of Health Michael O. Leavitt.
One of Sensor’s clients there was CQuence Health Group, the Omaha parent company of Cassling, which handles sales and service for Siemens Healthcare diagnostics and imaging technology. CQuence had invested in a Seattle company, Total Living Choices, that was founded in 1999 to create an online database of more than 80,000 post-acute care providers, allowing families and hospitals to search for a facility that will be a good fit for a patient.
In 2011, CQuence acquired the majority of the business, and it needed “direct guidance,” CQuence CEO Mike Cassling said.
“I had a chance to look at this company from an outside perspective, and I got very excited — right product, right time,” Sensor said.
Cassling told him, “If you’re so excited about it, why don’t you come run it?”
Sensor did just that, starting the first week of August. He moved back to Omaha into a riverfront condo.
Still, there is a lot of work to do to improve the product and market it to hospitals nationwide.
As of Sept. 3, CQuence has renamed Total Living Choices, calling it Ensocare, for the Japanese word enso, or “circle,” associated with enlightenment and a peaceful state of mind. Total Living Choices’ core product, formerly Care Finder-Pro, has been renamed Transition.
In addition, Ensocare’s Seattle-based software development staff of eight is working on adding features and products including three companion software services:
» Sync lets a hospital monitor a patient’s care after discharge, flags patients with high risk for readmission and allows communication among all members of a patient’s care team, including family members and home health nurses and aides.
» Connect gives patients educational materials and a list of the steps they need to take after leaving the hospital. It’s intended as “a way for them to take responsibility for their own well-being,” Ensocare says.
» Insight enables data analytics so hospitals can study trends in readmissions, outcomes, referral patterns and patient satisfaction.
Ensocare is now working directly with customers to field-test these products.
The University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics has been using Care Finder-Pro since 2011 and is now testing Sync, said Ann Williamson, chief nursing officer for the academic medical center.
“We’re very interested in improving our discharge process, preventing readmissions and facilitating transitions in care,” Williamson said.
Using Sync to follow a patient after discharge will mean that the Iowa hospital system can give a patient’s next caregiver a more detailed plan of care and that the hospital will know if a patient’s progress is wavering, through checks on weight, blood pressure and other measures.
“Before they become a readmission, we can have some conversation and interact with the facility,” Williamson said. “It’s going to require that we change how we’ve done things,” but there will be a benefit, she said.
“Improving the quality of the discharge process and managing transitions in care more carefully will really pay off for both hospitals and patients and families,” she said.
As part of the field-test, the university and Ensocare will measure what happens to patients whose care is tracked, to see if they have a better outcome than patients whose care is managed differently. It’s an opportunity to demonstrate Ensocare’s effectiveness, said Mary Kay Thalken, chief nursing officer for Ensocare.
Cassling isn’t worried about whether his firm will grow; he’s worried about where he’ll put all his employees when it does, especially those who directly handle customer service. Ensocare staff work at the CQuence headquarters at 13808 F St. in an industrial office park.
They’ve built out more cubicles for future customer support staff. There are seven staff members and one manager there now, together handling nearly 6,400 calls in July.
CQuence said it had no major customers in Nebraska, but has two in South Dakota: Sanford Health in Sioux Falls and Regional Health in Rapid City, both added recently. Ensocare isn’t marketing its services alone; it has partnered with major health software firm Cerner, which will sell Ensocare’s Transitions service to hospitals as part of a larger electronic health record system.
Sensor is promising growth for the company, savings for hospitals and improved care for patients. He said patients won’t be denied a trip to the hospital when they need it — their care will still be in a doctor’s hands — but by more closely monitoring patients, hospitals can intervene before a trip to the emergency room becomes necessary.
“Historically, the hospital’s responsibility ended on discharge,” Sensor said. “The reality is, that’s probably not the best care for patients.”