Making An Impact

Posted on Dec 1, 2010 :: Small Business Spotlight
Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

Photo by Sharon Verbeten

If John Hartman didn’t spend as much time in the emergency room as a kid, he may have become a computer geek instead of a physician. Fortunately for him, he parlayed both those interests – computers and medicine – into his current career.
Hartman, a nephrologist, is chief executive officer of Visonex in Ashwaubenon, a dialysis information management company that provides a configurable Internet-based electronic medical record system.

“Our goal has been to create technology that is a time savings,” says Hartman. “We’re more interested in the delivery of care. Health care technology has a poor track record.”

Most information management systems, he found, were little more than an event log. Hartman wanted a system capable of increasing communication, disseminating patient information and streamlining workflow.

“I was very interested in how technology could facilitate communications,” says Hartman, who previously worked in private practice in Green Bay.

“Getting started was the hardest part,” says Hartman, who founded the company in 2002 with John Opichka, former executive director of Urban Hope. Opichka now serves as president of the company, which has 46 employees, including 20 full-time software developers.

Hartman’s knowledge of the $30 billion dialysis industry, coupled with Opichka’s business acumen, made them a solid start-up team. Prior to launch, they surveyed the industry and competition. (Hartman says there are about five other companies providing software to the dialysis industry.) They relied on angel investors, as well as some traditional bank financing, to fund their venture.

Assembling a “broad base of advisors,” such as lawyers and accountants, and drafting a solid business plan were additional keys to the company’s early success.
“We were pretty fortunate. We made use of good advisors,” says Hartman. “It’s kind of the Lombardi approach. It’s about blocking and tackling. It’s about building the team.”

Hartman spends a large portion of his time reviewing and complying with the surfeit of regulatory issues surrounding health care and electronic records, such as the 2009 High Tech Act. While the act does lead to incentives for those implementing electronic medical records, on the flip side, it has led to more regulatory costs in the dialysis industry.

The company’s signature software, Clarity by Visonex, is used in 175 kidney dialysis clinics in 36 states nationwide. That’s about 5 percent of the available market, Hartman says.

Most of the company’s market is concentrated in the Midwest, primarily in smaller clinics. The Portage Health Dialysis Center in Hancock, Mich., was one of Visonex’s earliest customers.

Karen Kelley, director of dialysis at Portage Health, says that even though their clinic serves only 40 patients, “our needs are no less important” than a larger clinic.
The time savings Portage Health has translated into better patient care, Kelley says. “In the past, I had one nurse who took care of about eight patients. Now I have one nurse who takes care of 12 patients. It comes down to the cost per service, which is what I need to care about as an administrator.”

That reputation has led Visonex to tout a 100 percent success rate, according to Hartman. “We’ve never lost a client,” he boasts.

Hartman believes “success builds success,” and the company recently secured a Small Business Administration loan for new business expansion. Visonex is working to build an End Stage Renal Disease (ESRD) health information exchange in cooperation with the Renal Purchasing Group – taking data from the industry and providing it to the government to meet regulatory standards.

Today, Visonex is close to revenue projections in its business plan – noting growth of 65 to 75 percent each year – even in a health care industry in a state of constant flux.

Aside from the financial success Visonex is enjoying, Hartman – who has wanted to be a doctor since age 5 – says for him and his company, it’s all about “having a greater impact.”

And Kelley has seen that impact firsthand.

“They seem to be an organization that has what I would call real sound process management that influences the quality of care I can offer in my unit. We’re capturing care at point-of-service in real time; it reflects the care provided.”