Can This Student App Save Time at the Doctor's Office?

May 1, 2017

Ripley Carroll, Kamran Pirasteh and James Wang (l to r), from UVa's McIntire School of Commerce, are the founders of the start-up Tandem Medical.
Credit Marguerite Gallorini

Patients waiting for hours, doctors delayed, missing patient files ... These are common health care scenarios that could be improved with a better communication system. WMRA’s Marguerite Gallorini talked to three business students at UVa about their new app, Tandem Medical, designed to solve these problems.

PATIENT VISITOR: Well, it took you long enough, we’ve been waiting here for…

HOUSE: Mr Adams. Would you step outside for a moment?

PATIENT VISITOR: Why?

HOUSE: Because you irritate me.

That’s an extract from the TV show House M. D., but the amount of time patients often spend in the waiting room is an almost universal source of irritation -- for doctors as well as patients. One of the causes?  Inefficient internal communication in the health care industry – between doctors, lab technicians, and so on.

Tandem Medical is a student start-up aimed at tackling this issue. Kamran Pirasteh is one of the three students at the UVa McIntire Business School who created it.

KAMRAN PIRASTEH: You look at the communication system that hospitals use and it's the same in Europe, it's the same in Asia. It's basically a combination of in-person communication, and pager communication, and that's just so obsolete and it's really holding hospitals back. So providers, we found, have spent around 20 percent of their time just figuring out who they need to communicate with.

RIPLEY CARROLL: It's not only about efficiency, as Kamran mentioned, it's about quality and patient experience, and that's really important to keep in mind.

Fourth-year student Ripley Carroll deals with the sales and business development side of the app.

CARROLL: It actually significantly improves the care quality that these clinicians are able to provide, so improve quality scores which actually make these hospitals more popular under certain health care regulations, which is extremely important for them and really just kind of makes the whole system work better.

Their app has two key features, focused first on tasks, and second on the roles of various providers.  Pirasteh explains:

PIRASTEH: There are lists of tasks that people have and then once you've completed a task, you remove it from the list, you mark it as completed - it's like a cross between that and something sort of like GroupMe or Facebook Messenger, which allows users to communicate instantaneously with people in other departments to resolve tasks.

As for the role-based aspect of the system:

PIRASTEH: What we came up with was role-based communication: so we integrate with hospitals' scheduling systems to get messages to be based off their role. So if I have a message for the lab tech who is doing blood work, I just say "lab tech blood work: send" and it immediately ends up on that person's computer, mobile phone, and allows them to immediately communicate resolved tasks.

Over the summer last year, Kamran spent a couple of hundred hours observing the needs of health care providers in a hospital in Maryland.

PIRASTEH: Those doctors are actually on our team now, and they work with us to design and build the software, which we're going to deploy in their hospital within about 6 months.

James Wang, a third-year student at McIntire double-majoring in Business and Computer Science, joined the team a little later for the development of the app.

JAMES WANG:  We really got started building the product pretty much at the beginning of the year, like January. In about a couple of weeks, we had our first prototype, but since then, in four months, we've made a lot of progress. We're now completely HIPAA-compliant.

Which means they’re compliant with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.

WANG: Which means we're able to actually go into a hospital, and they can audit us for security breaches, stuff like that. We're still working on integrating with hospital databases - EMRs, Electronic Medical Records or EHRs, Electronical Health Records.

Eventually, this app has the potential to be deployed across the health care spectrum -- and it is designed for both desktop and mobile devices.

CARROLL: Essentially you could contact any clinician as a touch-point with a patient by simply clicking a few drop-down menus, and you don't have to know their name, you don't have to know their number; it really removes friction in the communication process, and can significantly improve outcomes for these patients and just make everyone's lives easier.

After this six-month trial, they are aiming to expand it to the 20 hospital systems their pilot hospital belongs to. It will be the initial step opening the gates for them to take this product down to the market, with a first focus on small to medium-size private hospitals.

PIRASTEH: I want this product in every hospital in the world, ideally.

So this trial in Maryland may determine whether this new idea from some students at UVa will be coming to a doctor’s office or hospital near you.