Eric Heil on Co-Founding RightCare Solutions, Studying Systems Engineering, and Reducing Readmissions (Podcast #8)

Ryan O’Keefe, MS2 –

On the most recent episode of the Penn HealthX podcast, I had the opportunity to speak with Eric Heil, who co-founded RightCare Solutions, a health-tech company that helped hospitals reduce readmissions rates and optimize post-acute care delivery. The company was acquired by Navi Health in 2015.

Kathy Knowles, a rock star at the Nursing School at Penn, was the other co-founder.

Eric has a BSE in Systems Engineering from Penn, and an MBA from the Wharton School as well. He played basketball at Penn, and even made it to the NCAA tournament twice in his career. After graduating, he took on numerous different jobs working at the intersection of business and healthcare which ultimately prepared him to found his own company.

Some takeaways from the discussion:

1. You don’t have to have a master plan – conviction will drive you in the right direction

Eric admitted that though he had an interest in making systems better, and the healthcare space more generally, he didn’t have a “master plan” for his career and life. In fact, he tended to go with his gut whenever he learned about something new and exciting that he could get involved with. For example, when he learned about the opportunities in venture capital, helping to advise companies and bring their products to market, he went to Domain Associates. When he discovered that his old thesis research at Penn was suddenly valuable because of new ACA regulations, he immediately contacted Kathy Knowles to see if she wanted to partner up and found RightCare.

Eric mentioned that when it comes to making changes in your line of work, the book Letters to a Young Entrepreneur by Ricardo B Levy helped him understand that you will feel a sense of “conviction” that guides you to new projects. Furthermore, sometimes you will just need to get lucky. Eric left Bear Stearns four weeks before the financial collapse in 2007 and 2008. Many (including his father) told him he was nuts to leave such a promising job, and yet he knew it was the right thing for him. Sometimes going with your gut can prove to be fortuitous – if Eric had planned on staying at Bear Stearns forever, he would have been hit with a large dose of reality. Remember not to stick too closely to a “master plan”.

2. Go to conferences and talk to people about your work and ideas

While listening to Eric’s story of founding RightCare, the thing that struck me most was the setting in which some of the initiating conversations happened. It was at the JP Morgan Healthcare Conference in 2011.  This really hit home for me just how important going to conferences to talk with other like-minded people thinking about the same types of problems you are. It was here that Eric learned about how he was essentially sitting on a goldmine of data because of the new ACA regulations.

It’s not only important to physically surround yourself with people working on exciting projects in your fields, but to also engage them and not be afraid to tell them what you do, and what you want. One thing I’m personally working on is how to properly promote myself. It’s often an uncomfortable thing, but it’s so crucial to let everyone know what it is that you want. You never know who is out there who has the connections or knowledge to help you out.

For those at Penn or in the local Philadelphia area, check out the annual Wharton Business in Healthcare Conference, and Penn HealthX Conference to meet students, faculty, and KOL’s working at the intersection of business and medicine.

Here are some interesting resources I found on how to market yourself at conferences:

http://www.apa.org/gradpsych/2014/04/market.aspx

http://blogs.plos.org/paleocomm/2015/12/03/networking-how-to-market-yourself-at-conferences/

3. Things Move Slowly in Healthcare – Change is Hard

 Entrepreneurs love sayings like “disrupt” and “fail forward”. While this often works in many tech fields, unfortunately things can be way more difficult in healthcare. Change is always harder than everyone expects. One reason for this is that when dealing with people’s healthcare and lives, you can’t afford to experiment and get things wrong. There is a strict process we must follow to ensure that all patients receive the highest quality of care, and any change to the way care is delivered undergoes intense scrutiny from many parties. Just think about the FDA, and how difficult it is to get drugs and medical devices approved. The same goes for healthcare technologies entrepreneurs are looking to implement in hospitals, like RightCare.

It’s important to recognize the difference between inertia that is properly built into the system to protect patients, and that which is there because of the status quo. Go through the proper channels, but don’t take no for an answer, or let one party out of the many you work with dictate everything you do, simply because you are afraid to speak up and push the process along. People skills will be very handy when dealing with such barriers.

4. It doesn’t have to be your idea

My favorite part of the RightCare story is that it wasn’t technically Eric’s idea. He got involved with his thesis at Penn after hearing about the opportunity from a professor. The data that was collected over the years which gave the company its value was mostly consolidated when Eric was off working at other jobs building other meaningful skills. Yet, because Eric felt conviction, saw the opportunities, and pulled the trigger, he was able to serve as the co-founder and CEO. It doesn’t have to be your idea! But if you have a skill-set to help drive the mission of the company forward, offer your time and brain – your two most valuable assets. Pay attention to the amazing opportunities all around you, and figure out how you can best contribute. You may stumble upon one of the greatest opportunities of your lifetime. Be prepared and speak up.

 

– Ryan is a second year medical student at the Perelman School of Medicine. He is the co-VP of curriculum for Penn HealthX, the co-host of the Penn HealthX podcast, and founder/editor-in-chief of the Penn HealthX blog. You can contact him at ryan.o’keefe@uphs.upenn.edu –

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