A Leap of Faith Starting an Electronic HIM Business

Vol. 15 •Issue 13 • Page 28
A Leap of Faith Starting an Electronic HIM Business

What does it take to start your own HIM service company? These entrepreneurs will give a personal look at the trials, tribulations and triumphs they’ve experienced during this year of developing a new business.

What goes through your head when you decide to leave the security of the large health care information technology (IT) company where you’ve worked for almost 20 years to start your own HIM service company? “My Irish mother always wanted me to find a nice secure job in the civil service—so you can imagine what her reaction would be! Therefore, I took my usual approach with her and told her about it after I’d done it,” stated Niall Doherty.

Doherty, a thoughtful man with an engaging manner, knew that even in a large company, if you hang around long enough you’ll cross paths with people who are fellow entrepreneurs at heart. In his case, this happened in 1991 after he’d been a practicing computer engineer for 8 years, often working on perfect “research” projects. Why perfect? Well, research meant no deadlines, endless budgets and cool toys. However, they never lasted, and he knew there was more to life than engineering, at least for him.

Branching Into Health Care

“My interview for a job in sales and marketing took about 10 minutes,” Doherty recalled. That’s all it took for Ed Laufenberg to agree to hire him that early spring day. “It was the fastest job interview I’ve ever known, and it was also the most rewarding because it initiated a relationship that would last to this day. Ed knew nothing about engineering, and I knew nothing about business: a perfect marriage; we needed each other.”

For the next 10 years, Doherty set out to learn the world of health care and technology in all its aspects. In addition, he and Laufenberg spent many hours studying businesses, learning what made them successful and actually starting a few winning business entities within the large corporation in which they worked.

Along the way Doherty also gained useful insights from a collection of terrific colleagues and customers who took the time to work with him and make mistakes with him. Among those colleagues was Mike Brensinger, a registered health information administrator (RHIA), with a deep understanding and background in medical records and an enthusiasm to get things done. Doherty originally hired Brensinger in 2000 and together they dedicated the next 3 years to helping their employer re-establish a presence in the HIM marketplace, a role they both enjoyed. But that old entrepreneurial spirit kept tugging at Doherty and when he found that Brensinger was similarly inclined, the ideas began to flow.

Transition Is the Key

Of course they were both well practiced in helping organizations transition from a typical “paper-bound,” constrained environment into the “e” world, i.e., transitioning to an e-HIM™ environment. Having analyzed hundreds of successful and failed endeavors across the country, they realized that the key was in that word “transition.” No matter how good the products or strategies are, the hard part is in making the transition itself. It required vision, commitment, tools, products, innovations, processes, methodologies and the list goes on. The two of them became increasingly interested in helping organizations make that transition because É well in the long run, it contributes to improving health care and reducing cost, hence, it’s well worthwhile.

A grand vision, to be sure, but it was no simple matter for Doherty and Brensinger to make the decision to forgo successful careers, nice pay checks and apparent job security and opportunity. When Brensinger left the hospital world for the vendor world several years ago his friends said he was “crazy to leave a secure hospital job.” And now he was lining up to make a far riskier move! “Those risks are not trivial,” declared Brensinger. The comments from family and friends ran the gambit: “eh?” “go for it,” “will you give me a job?,” “yeah, right!”

On three prior occasions Doherty had attempted to start other ventures. “The only one that really got off the ground, however, was the current one. Why?” Doherty observes, “Because my partner and I stopped looking for a ‘sure thing’ and just did it.”

So, they took the leap and, as they did, their group immediately increased to three as Laufenberg joined them on the first day of business to help with strategy and marketing.

For a business name, they wanted something relevant, short, memorable and precise. The name that emerged was: e4. “I’ve always like the way the name 3M stood out in those conference vendor listings,” Doherty recalled. “It’s the only short one in the bunch (until now) so it jumps right out.”

The “e” part, of course, relates to what their customers are transitioning to, and the number “4” offers a sense of precision and represents the four service lines in which they have extensive experience: e-HIM, eHR (electronic health record), eBO (electronic business office) and eDM (electronic document management).

Defining the Business

With the name chosen, the next task was to define the mission, strategy and value proposition for the newly formed company. The founders’ backgrounds in business, health care, engineering and project and people management—combined with a good degree of creativity and problem solving skills—enabled them to view this challenge from almost every angle. At the end of the day, e4 exists to help organizations simplify the transition to the “e-world.”

Building on their prior experiences, and having tried many of their ideas with several e4 customers, they have developed a complete methodology and associated framework to help customers “make the transition.” What has evolved thus far looks like a simple (but comprehensive) map more than anything else. It starts with helping customers define their own vision and moves on to guide them on how to get executive buy-in for the vision (using sales techniques, combined with innovative roadmap and return on investment tools to describe the project). From there, the framework helps users:

• focus on critical success factors,

• evaluate vendors,

• negotiate agreements,

• manage projects phases and

• measure and communicate success.

They even offer a session called “what they don’t teach you at school,” because so much of their work focuses on what really makes or breaks a transition project like this—much of which isn’t taught anywhere. It’s full of tips on things like leveraging sales people, finding the win/win in negotiations, organizing people, taking control and reducing risk.

At this point, the e4 team is planning for the next phase—growth. Meanwhile, they’ve agreed to provide more detailed content on many of the areas listed above in an online column called “Stories and Lessons from a Start-Up,” which can be found on ADVANCE’s Web site at www.advanceweb.com/him.

So, tune in to see how these fellows fare with the next phase of their new adventure.

Lou Chandler owns RESULTS Associates, a consulting firm. As a seasoned communications executive, she has created and directed communications ventures in Fortune 500 settings, including “business theatre” productions. She was listed in Who’s Who of American Women, has worked as an actor for Robert Redford at his Sundance Summer Theatre, and was Salt Lake City’s first female Rock-n-Roll disk jockey.

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